Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (College of Business)
Schools and Centres
Prof. Hélène de Burgh-Woodman
Dr. Sagar Athota
Traditional theories that form the basis of workplace motivation may be inadequate to manage workers in the knowledge-based economy. Knowledge workers are a growing segment of the workforce, and their needs differ from previous generations of employees. How managers can best motivate knowledge workers towards greater performance and employee satisfaction may not have a definitive answer, however we will explore the effectiveness of some of the commonly used practices in the current workplace.
Knowledge workers add value to a company's products and services by applying their knowledge. The self-determination theory (SDT) is considered a more encompassing theory than the traditional motivation theories (Ankli & Palliam, 2012) and provides the appropriate framework to understand motivation in knowledge workers. SDT makes the distinction between autonomous and controlled motivation (R. M. Ryan & Deci, 2000b) , where the range of motivation types range on a continuum from intrinsic motivation through to amotivation, classified into 6 subclasses.
The aim of this thesis is to examine some of the factors that may impact the motivation of knowledge workers. These related factors of motivation were not previously considered in the traditional motivation theories, however are highly applicable approaches used to motivate knowledge workers in the current workplace. A quantitative approach has been taken to address the following research questions through three independent studies:
1. Is a knowledge worker’s motivation related to their personality traits? 2. How important is pay on the motivation of knowledge workers? 3. Does the motivation of knowledge workers differ significantly between age groups? 4. Are feedback and goal setting effective methods to motivate knowledge workers?
The first study validates Tremblay’s SDT model using the data collected from our sample of 935 knowledge workers, which shows the subclasses of motivation are correlated. Addressing Research Question “1 - Is a knowledge worker’s motivation related to their personality traits?”, a number of related hypotheses on the role of personality traits on the impact on motivation and work satisfaction were tested, and found that personality traits have a weak or negligible impact on the motivation of knowledge workers. Though compensation is often a major consideration for employees when they are seeking work, specific academic research in the area of using pay as a source of motivation has been limited. In the second study, 630 knowledge workers completed the Work Values Questionnaire, which consists of 37 items consisting of both intrinsic and extrinsic work values. The second study aims to answer Research Question “2 - How important is pay on the motivation of knowledge workers?”. Pay was rated to be an important work value, however the intrinsic factors stimulation, balance, independence, and intellect rated more important to knowledge workers.
Contrary to articles published in the popular press about generational cohorts, there is little theoretical justification or empirical data to support age-related differences (Ruth Kanfer & Ackerman, 2004a) . Our findings add to the limited quantifiable data on the topic of age-related differences in motivation. Using data collected in the first and second study, knowledge worker participants were used to collect data to assess the level of work motivation, job satisfaction, and other work-related values to address Research Question “3 - Does the motivation of knowledge workers differ significantly between age groups?”. Age did not have a significant effect on most work-related values. Work motivation was found to increase with age, however the importance of extrinsic incentive decreases with age.
The practice of goal setting and feedback are commonly used methods in workplace performance management systems. Research Question “4 - Are feedback and goal setting effective methods to motivate knowledge workers?” In the third study, consisting of 730 knowledge worker participants, the majority of the hypotheses were found to be unsupported, indicating that goal setting and feedback are ineffective methods in increasing employee engagement and motivation, or enhancing performance.
The findings of these three independent studies makes a contribution to furthering knowledge in terms of the factors affecting the motivation levels of knowledge workers in Australia.
Wong, C. (2019). Motivation in knowledge workers (Doctor of Philosophy (College of Business)). University of Notre Dame Australia. https://researchonline.nd.edu.au/theses/245