Evaluating esprit de corps: jobs that have low motivating potential are often the result of poor job design – Research Update

Al Williams

The challenge of motivating employees has long been recognized as an integral part of managing leisure-service organizations. According to Edginton, Hudson and Lankford (2001), motivation plays an exceedingly important role in moving an organization towards excellence. Moorhead and Griffin (1998) have suggested that employee performance is a joint function of ability and motivation. Therefore, motivating employees to perform to the best of their ability is seen as one of the manager’s primary tasks. This fact was reiterated in the 1990s when public recreation managers ranked motivating employees as their most important goal to pursue (Edginton, Hudson & Lankford, 2000; Edginton, Madrigal, Lankford & Wheeler, 1990). This line of reasoning is also evident in the organizational behavior and management literature (Ambrose & Kulik, 1999; Barron, 1991; Dainty, 1986; O’Reilly, 1991; Selden & Brewer, 2000; Siropolis, 1994).

Yet despite the agreement over the significance of work motivation, there’s considerable controversy over which of multiple factors motivates employees to work. The complexity of work motivation is evident in the interaction of the forces among an individual, the job and the work environment that account for the level, direction and persistence of effort expended at work (Steers & Porter, 1991). Pinder (1998) has described work motivation as the set of forces, internal (individual needs and motives) and external (environmental forces), that initiate work-related behavior and determine its form, direction, intensity and duration. Given the relative intricacy of work motivation, it’s not surprising that numerous theories have been developed to explain this phenomena. These approaches include content/ need (Herzberg’s two factors), process (equity and expectancy theory) and behaviorism (reinforcement theory).

Work-Motivation Research in Leisure Service Settings

As noted by Mitra and Lankford (1999), much of the knowledge base used by the leisure-services field has been borrowed or adapted from allied fields. This has also been true of work-motivation research. Therefore, much of the work-motivation research in the leisure services field has been grounded in established theory or has used combinations of theory and conceptual frameworks (Henderson, 1995).

Content/Need Theory: The literature on content/need theory revealed that the majority of research pertaining to motivation, and its relationship to management of leisure services, has been conducted in the public and nonprofit sectors using Herzberg’s (1959, 1987) two-factor motivator hygiene theory. According to Edginton, Hudson & Lankford, (2000), the chief proponents of much of this research have been Larry Neal (1984) and his associates at the University of Oregon.

Herzberg’s theory postulated that factors in the workplace causing positive attitudes towards one’s job were different than the factors that generated negative attitudes. Herzberg identified 16 factors related to either job satisfaction or job dissatisfaction. Five factors were found to be strong determinates of job satisfaction. These factors tended to be intrinsic in nature and were labeled as motivators. Eleven factors were associated with job dissatisfaction. These factors were extrinsic in nature and were labeled as hygiene factors.

The bulk of the studies applying Herzberg’s theory have been conducted with full-time managers and employees (Cannon, 1985; Costa, 1994; DeGraaf, 19952; DeGraaf & Edginton, 1998; Edginton, Neal & Edginton, 1989; Hoff, Ellis & Crossley, 1988; Lankford, Nea, & Buxton, 19952; Neal, 1984; Neal, Williams & Beech, 1982; Rothschadl, 1983; Voight, 1983; Williams, 1992; Williams & Neal, 1993;). Exceptions include Rothschadl’s work on volunteers and DeGraaf’s and Hoff’s studies on seasonal employees. The studies conducted with full-time individuals primarily used ranking methodology to determine respondent preferences for individual motivation factors. Comparisons were then made between respondent sub-groups (managers and employees, summer staff, volunteers, etc.). Taken collectively, these studies confirm portions of the Herzberg theories and models as detailed below.

Alternative Theory/Approaches: In the late 1980s and 1990s, five additional journal articles related to workplace motivation were published in the leisure-services literature. These articles didn’t address motivation theory directly. Rather, they explored the relationship between motivation and other factors in the work environment. Nogradi and Anthony (1988) used Vroom’s typology (1964) to research core job dimensions, job involvement and job satisfaction experienced by seasonal workers in municipal park and recreation agencies. Their findings indicated that job design is closely related to work motivation. Nogradi, Yardley and Kanters (1995) also used Vroom’s typology to explore the relationship among work-related attention, the motivating potential of jobs and job effectiveness outcomes. Their findings indicated that jobs that have a low motivating potential are often the result of poor job design.

Henderson and Bialeschki (1993) used the theoretical construct of optimal experience of “flow” (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990) to examine work in seasonal camp settings. They found that potency, affect, creativity and motivation had high relationships to “flow” for-employees, and were similar to findings reported by DeGraaf (1992) and Hoff et al. (1988). These authors suggested that managers in seasonal settings be cognizant of how “flow” experiences might impact on staff morale and productivity. Frisby (1995) questioned whether traditional organizational theory was adequate for leisure services in the 1990s. Her conclusions suggest that the leisure-services field might be better served by incorporating additional organizational theory into the traditional approach. Among the alternatives she considered were: interpretive organization theory, critical organizational theory, feminist organization theory and postmodern organization theory. Williams, Lankford, and DeGraaf (1999) explored the use of cognitive mapping to determine how managers would construct mental maps of factors believed to represent why employees and managers differed with respect to motivation in the workplace. Their findings suggested that managers grouped a series of 18 factors into three distinct sub-groups. They suggested that future research efforts focus on these groupings.

Most motivation research conducted in the field has relied on a content or need approach to understanding motivation, most specifically the use of Herzberg’s (1959, 1987) two factor motivator hygiene theory. To our knowledge, no other motivation studies conducted in the leisure services field have used a process or reinforcement theory approach.

Organizational Behavior and Management Literature

Ambrose and Kulik (1999) conducted a review of more than 200 studies on work motivation published in the organizational behavior and management literature between January 1990 and December 1997. They grouped the studies into categories based on the theoretical approach used. The theories included: motive and need (which included Herzberg, achievement, and Protestant work ethic theories); expectancy; equity and justice; goal setting; cognitive evaluation; work design (which primarily focused on the job characteristics approach); and reinforcement.

The greatest number of studies reported were in the categories of goal setting, work design and reinforcement theories. Ambrose and Kulik (1999) drew a number of general conclusions. First, most of the traditional motivation theories had received considerable empirical support. Although some new motivational theories had been proposed in the 1990s (Kidwell & Bennett, 1995; Klein, 1991; Vardi & Weiner, 1996), these approaches hadn’t been empirically validated. The authors also suggested that the traditional motivation theories are well-established and that major shifts in understanding employee motivation aren’t likely. A third finding was that using, “work” and “motivation” as key words in literature searches produces limited findings.

Theory names produce much better research search results than other methods. The authors attributed this to the fact that much of the research has largely abandoned the broad concept of motivation, and has replaced it with more concise specific behavior measures of (task performance, job satisfaction, etc.). Subsequently, researchers often explored motivation through what the authors termed the “back door”; that is, they attempted to examine specific issues, and generally found that using motivation theory as a framework was helpful to explain their findings. The studies of Nogradi, Yardley and Ranters (1995), and Henderson and Bialeschki (1993) might be considered examples of this approach.

It appears that studies done in the organizational behavior and management field explore work motivation from a much broader perspective than do those conducted in the leisure-services field. As noted earlier, most of the research done on work motivation in leisure-services has focused on Herzberg’s theory. The utility of this theory has been validated. Ambrose and Kulik (1999) note that this approach continues to have considerable intuitive appeal, especially in settings like the public sector where managers may have limited access to financial motivators. It would also appear that researchers in the leisure-services field might consider exploring work motivation from some of the varying approaches noted above and reviewed by Ambrose and Kulik. A thorough examination provides numerous ways for leisure-service researchers to explore work-motivation issues in the future.

These authors also advocate against the concept of integrative theory. As noted earlier, integrative approaches haven’t been empirically validated. As work motivation research becomes more focused, established theory becomes more relevant, and the individual theories maintain their unique contributions to understanding the phenomenon of work motivation.


Ambrose, M. L., & Kulik, C. T. (1999). Old friends, new faces: Motivation research in the 1990s. Journal of Management, 25(3), 231-292.

Baron, R. A. (1991). Motivation in work settings: Reflections on the core of organizational research. Motivation and Emotion, 15, 1-8.

Cannon, E. C. (1985). A study of perceived motivational factors and the degree of perceived influence of professional administrators within the western region of the .Boy Scouts of America. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Oregon, Eugene.

Csikszentmihaly, M. (1990). Flow: The psychology of optimal experience. New York: Harper Collins.

Costa, G. (1994). A cross-cultural analysis of work motivation by Greek and U.S. recreation employees. European Journal for Sport and Management, 1.1

Dainty, P. (1986). Work motivation and job redesign: Is progress over? Journal of Managerial Psychology, 1(2), v-viii.

DeGraaf, D. G. (1992). An examination of the relationship between selected individual variables as they relate to camp counselors ranking of work motivators. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Oregon, Eugene.

DeGraaf, D. G., & Edginton, C. R., (1992). Work motivation and camp counselors. Journal of Park and Recreation Administration, 10(4), 37-57.

Edginton, C. R., Hudson, S. D., & Lankford, S. V., (2000). Managing recreation, parks, and leisure services: An Introduction. Champaign, IL: Sagamore.

Edginton, C. R., Madrigal, B., Lankford, S., & Wheeler, D. (1990). Organizational goals: Differences between park and recreation managers and board or commission members. Journal of Park and Recreation Administration, 8(2), 70-84.

Edginton, C. R., Neal L. L, & Edginton S. (1989). Motivating park and recreation professionals: A cross-cultural analysis. Journal of Park and Recreation Administration, 7(3), 33-43.

Frisby, W. (1995). Broadening perspectives on leisure service management and research: What does organization theory offer? Journal of Park & Recreation Administration, 13(1), 58-72.

Henderson, K. A. (1995). Research on woman and leisure: Past, present, and future research. In L. A. Barnett (ed.), Research about leisure: Past, present, and future (pp. 129-148). Champaign, IL: Sagamore.

Henderson, K. A., & Bialeschki, M.D. (1993). Optimal work experiences as “flow”: Implications for seasonal staff. Journal of Park & Recreation Administration, 11(1), 37-48.

Herzberg, F. (1959). The motivation to work. New York: Wiley.

Herzberg, F. (1987). One more time: How do we motivate employees? Harvard Business Review, 87(5), 109-117.

Hoff, A., Ellis, G., & Crossley, J. (1988). Employment motives of summer job seekers in recreation settings: A test of Herzberg’s motivation-hygiene theory. Journal of Park and Recreation Administration, 6(1), 66-73.

Kidwell, R. E., & Bennett, N. (1993). Employee propensity to withhold effort: A conceptual model to intersect three avenues of research. Academy of Management Review, 18, 429-456.

Klein, H. J. (1991). Further evidence on the relationship between goal setting and expectancy theories. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 49, 230-257.

Lankford, S. V., Neal, L. L., & Buxton, B. B. (1992). An examination and comparison of work motivators in public, private / commercial, nonprofit, and armed forces leisure service organizations. Journal of Park and Recreation Administration, 10(4), 57-70.

Mitra, A., & Lankford, S. (1999). Research methods in park, recreation, and leisure services. Champaign, IL: Sagamore.

Moorhead, G., & Griffen, R. W. (1998). Organizational behavior: Managing people and organizations (5th ed.). Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.

Neal, L. L. (1984). Motivational discrepancy between staff levels in municipal leisure services. Journal of Park and Recreation Administration, 2(4), 25-29.

Neal, L. L., Williams, J., & Beech, S. (1982). How managers perceive subordinates. Journal of Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance, 53(4), 56-58.

Nogradi, G. S., & Anthony, R (1988). Perceived job characteristics, job involvement, and work motivation: An examination of the relationships for seasonal municipal recreation employees. Journal of Park and Recreation Administration, 6(3), 1-13.

Nogradi, G. S., Yardley, J. K., & Kanters, M. A. (1993). The relationship between work related attention, motivating potential of jobs, and job effectiveness outcomes. Journal of Park and Recreation Administration, 11(3), 37-50.

O’Reilly, C. A. III. (1991). Organizational behavior: Where we’ve been, where we’re going. Annual Review of Psychology, 42, 427-458.

Pinder, C. C. (1998). Work motivation in organizational behavior. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Rothschadl, A. M. (1983). A comparison of volunteers’ and their supervisor’s perceptions of volunteer motivation in the city of Salem, Oregon regional parks and recreation agency. Unpublished Master’s thesis, University of Oregon, Eugene, OR.

Selden, S. C., & Brewer, G. A. (2000). Work motivation in the senior executive service: Testing the high performance cycle theory. Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, 10(3), 531-550.

Siropolis, N. (1994). Small business management: A guide to entrepreneurship. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Steers, R. M., & Porter, L. W. (1991). Motivation and work behavior(5th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.

Vardi, Y., & Wiener, Y. (1996). Misbehavior in organizations: A motivational framework. Organizational Science, 7. 151-165.

Voight, A. E. (1983). A national study of perceived motivational factors and the degree of perceived influence of supervisors and subordinates. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Oregon, Eugene, OR.

Vroom, V. H. (1964). Work and motivation. New York: Wiley.

Williams, A. E. (1992). Motivational assessment in organizations: An application of importance-performance analysis. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Oregon, Eugene.

Williams, A. E., Lankford, S. V., & DeGraaf, D. G. (1999). How managers perceive factors that impact employee motivation: An application of Pathfinder Analysis. Journal of Park and Recreation Administration, 17(2), 84-106.

Williams, A. E., & Neal, L. L. (1993). Motivational assessment in organizations: An application of importance-performance analysis. Journal of Park and Recreation Administration, 11(2), 60-71


If you’re interested in the practical applications and measurement of staff and supervisory motivation issues in the workplace, visit www.worldleisure.org. Also contact local university programs for assistance in these types of assessments. For example, the Program for Recreation Research and Service at the University of Northern Iowa conducts motivation assessments for leisure-service organizations.

RELATED ARTICLE: Research into action: making motivation work.

Effective motivation is an integral part of managing anything, yet motivation remains a complex dynamic that’s impacted by numerous internal and external variables. Park and recreation supervisors benefit by applying workplace motivation theory because employees are much more likely to be attracted and retained by intrinsic job satisfaction than limited financial incentives.

Motivators include attitudes, beliefs and value systems of the employee and manager, and the constraints (or lack thereof) in the work environment. This mix of variables is subject to change and varies from agency to agency. Assess your work environment to communicate effectively to current and potential employees regarding “what matters” in the agency. Employees are motivated to the degree that “what matters” to the agency “matters” to them personally. Their desire to make a positive difference in their communities is also a factor.

Maintenance-hygiene motivation factors are extrinsic–pay and benefits, working conditions, raises, job security, etc. They have shown to be of less importance than intrinsic motivators, such as a role in decision making, helping to attain agency goals, being a part of the team etc. Intrinsic motivators help employees to grow professionally, thus increasing and sustaining performance and productivity. Managers should be empowered by boards and commissions to create work environments that meet these maintenance-hygiene needs, and that satisfy intrinsic motivators. Empowering employees to make decisions, helps them understand how their actions help attain goals and involves them in a team atmosphere.

Communication and honesty from managers are key factors in employee motivation. Managers who are known for these traits are seen as being up front with people, being able to tell it like it is and as having no hidden agendas. Managers can thus create motivating work environments by getting genuine feedback about whether they possess these skills and by practicing them regularly.

Open communication has been ranked as the most important reason employees reported for taking their present jobs. Employees want to know what’s going on in the workplace; by telling them, managers provide motivation. A question for managers is, How often do you take the time to do it? Managers will get what they reward in the workplace. Managers should realize that research has found communication may be the process most central to the success or failure of an organization. These studies reinforce the notion that job satisfaction and work motivation are helped by the quality of communication within the organization. There’s a need to listen to employees’ views, establish dialogue, develop consensus, act on agreed ideas and delegate responsibility. Joint consultation is used within some organizations; it improves employee relations and fills in the gap left by some management practices, while creating good working relationships among management and employees. Involvement in problem solving provides employees with an opportunity to contribute directly to the achievement of departmental and organizational goals.

In light of the importance of communication as outlined above, it’s critical to determine how managers improve communication in their organization. One aspect of management that perhaps impacts most directly on communication is that of management style. Consider adopting what has been termed a “participatory” management style (Hitt, 1988; Siropolis, 1994), especially as it relates to communication. This involves:

* Significant communication between employees and managers aimed at achieving the organization’s objectives and goals.

* Information that flows down, up and sideways.

* Downward and upward communication that’s accepted with an open mind.

* Managers who are aware of the problems their employees face. One result of adopting a participatory management style is that a more open communication process is nearly ensured.

The future is uncertain; staff and managers alike will face unfamiliar challenges and new demands in today’s fast-paced climate. Success will depend on teamwork, loyalty, vision and, most important, communication. The workplace culture in some leisure-service organizations may be impacted by structural barriers created by collective bargaining and group norms and expectations that impede communication. Regardless, improvements in communication between managers and employees will lead to improved levels of motivation.

Albert Williams, Ph.D., is an associate professor in the Department of Recreation & Leisure Services, at the University of Maine at Presque Isle. He has also taught at the University of Central Michigan, the University of New Hampshire, and the University of Maine at Presque Isle. His published research focuses on management of leisure services, teaching, and outdoor recreation issues. He can be reached at williama@polaris.umpi.maine.edu.

Samuel Lankford, Ph.D., is a professor in the sustainable tourism and the environment program at the University of Northern Iowa, in Cedar Falls. He has also taught at the University of Oregon and the University of Hawaii. He has conducted workshops and provided consulting services for recreation agencies on management, staff motivation assessments and evaluation of programs and services.

COPYRIGHT 2003 National Recreation and Park Association

COPYRIGHT 2003 Gale Group

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