With increased competition, rapid technological innovations, dynamic organizational structures and shorter product life-cycles defining the fast-paced environment of the modern business world, many employees are being subjected to more work activities. As such, more of them are suffering from high levels of stress at the workplace, compounded by issues regarding perceived discrepancies between the employees input and outputs, among other stressful issues that may even spring from the non-work environment. This leads to varied effects such as lateness and even absenteeism which may be necessitated by negative health effects, lack of adherence to deadlines as well as shoddy work, among other negative performance outcomes. Considering that employees are key resources and creators of value in a firm, it is incumbent upon a company’s management to address the relevant issues tied to increased stress in the workplace especially since it may be a symptom of lack of job satisfaction by employees. Central to this is the issue of what motivates employees which, Tietjen & Myers (1998) links to job satisfaction and performance of employees.
Job Performance, Satisfaction and Motivation
When Michael joined a multinational dealing in telecommunications and logistics, he was a picture of extraordinary motivation, persistence and business excellence as he rose through the ranks to head the sales departments. However, after almost twenty years working for the firm, his performance had decreased gradually and even his colleagues were getting concerned every passing day especially since he seemed his usual self. The problem lay in his musings of how other department heads were specially treated and compensated, which was better, despite being the youngest department head in the firm; making him feel highly demotivated. This was in light of his highly acclaimed efforts expended in his work at the company as compared to other employees which, combined with his disappointment, weighed on him emotionally and which was beginning to manifest physically in his tired bearing. The decreased performance soon evolved into absenteeism and dissatisfaction with junior employees which seemed to have cascading impacts as the department’s productivity decreased. It was increasingly apparent that his business drive had really taken a nosedive which forced the company director to give him forced leave to freshen him up. Michael’s situation is a clear-cut case of demotivation based on a heightened sense of unfairness by the company which has not only negatively impacted his overall performance but has also enhanced his stress levels and dissatisfaction with his current job, which he is considering quitting soon.

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According to Adams’ equity theory of motivation, Michael feels unfairly treated which leads to his high level of demotivation as well as the feeling of being unappreciated further leading his decreased performance (Lindner, 1998). The sense that other department heads are regarded and compensated highly than him is especially galling to him which sometimes invokes him to deliberately underperform. Fundamentally, Adams’ equity theory of motivation posits that employees are highly likely to be motivated by fair or relatively advantageous treatment in the workplace while unfairness leads them to feel demotivated and unappreciated. It is this demotivation and lack of appreciation that can be inferred in Michael’s case and be attributed to his reduced performance as he views management as being unfair to him. Adams identifies differences between employee inputs or efforts (such as persistence, hard work and loyalty) and outputs (especially recognition and salary) as creating unfairness, demotivation and by extension, reduced performance (Kakkos, Trivellas and Fillipou, 2010). In Michael’s case, the discrepancy between his skills (including application), commitment, hard work and enthusiasm in relation to the various benefits and level of salary the firm provides, and to a certain extent, lack of recognition, underlies his dissatisfaction and reduced performance. Relatedly, Kakkos, Trivellas and Fillipou (2010) found that the effects of workplace stress negatively influenced employee job satisfaction with major implications on how managers could influence worker performance.

Based on Adams’ equity theory, the best intervention in Michael’s case would be to increase his pay and associated benefits and also reduce his workload, to be followed, sometime in the future, by a promotion especially as head to one of the firm’s subsidiaries. This will address the feelings of unfairness by appropriately rewarding and acknowledging his ‘inputs’ while the forced vacation will greatly decrease his stress level and reinforce his commitment. As a highly-driven and experienced senior executive whose reduced performance seems to stem primarily from unfairness and associated demotivation, it would be a loss to the firm to lose him to other companies especially since he deserves the fair/better treatment. However, borrowing from Herzberg’s two factory theory of motivation, it is vitally important that the elements of satisfaction and dissatisfaction in Michael’s case be comprehensively assessed, as addressing his satisfaction may not necessarily motivate him or reduce his dissatisfaction (House & Wigdor, 1967). It is possible that his stress and associated dissatisfaction springs from varied work conditions such as reduced responsibility with important company matters or unchallenging work roles which may not be addressed by intervention involving increase in salary.

Job satisfaction, reduced or absence of workplace stress and the use of varied motivators such as increased salaries, among others, are evidently highly influential elements that positively impact employee performance. Michael’s fast rise through the firm’s ranks depicts his intrinsic motivation and desire to succeed even though feelings of unfairness and dissatisfaction, compounded by stress, reduced his productivity. As discussed above, Adams’ equity theory of motivation provides a useful framework not only for understanding Michael’s case of demotivation and dissatisfaction but also valuable interventions by which to address the identified challenges. Summarily, it is also evident that employees are demotivated and dissatisfied with their jobs or some aspects of those jobs, employers should expect a reduction in performance and overall productivity but should take heart in the fact that effective solutions are available.

  • House, R.J. & Wigdor, L.A. (1967). Herzberg’s dual-factor theory of job satisfaction and
    motivation: a review of the evidence and a criticism. Personnel Psychology, 20(4), 369–390, DOI: 10.1111/j.1744-6570.1967.tb02440.x
  • Kakkos, N., Trivellas, P. & Fillipou, K. (2010). Exploring the link between job motivation, work
    stress and job satisfaction: Evidence from the banking industry. 7th International Conference on Enterprise Systems, Accounting and Logistics (7th ICESAL 2010) Rhodes, Greece. 211-230.
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