At first glance, the expectancy theory of motivation may seem unfamiliar to you. Still, as we delve deeper into this theory, you will realize that this theory has been implemented on you for years, starting from your youth until adulthood, before going deeper into the origin of the expectancy theory of motivation and before giving you a complex example of how this theory is implemented in your current life. I will give you a simple example that should help you understand the basic concept of this theory. Take a look back at the first years of your life.

Do you remember what your parents or teachers did when they needed you to do something you were required to do but did not want to? They gave you something to look forward to once you have accomplished a daunting task, a source of motivation. Whether it was a piece of candy, a gold star, or extra playtime, this small thing encouraged you as a child to fulfill a task that you could not see yourself completing. This incentive not only helped you complete that task but even made the process of completing it exciting and entertaining.

Now that you have grasped this theory’s rudimentary concept let’s delve deeper into its origin and how it applies to current events in your life. The expectancy theory was proposed by Victor Vroom of Yale School of Management in 1964. Vroom centered his focus on outcomes and not on needs, unlike Maslow and Herzberg. According to his explanation of the expectancy theory of motivation, a person will behave or act in a given manner because they are driven to choose a specific action over others based on what they expect the outcome of that action to be.

People frequently make decisions depending on the expected monetary return from their labor. The expectancy theory of motivation can help you understand the many ways you may motivate your employees. You can better delegate duties, create objectives, and offer meaningful incentives by understanding what drives your coworkers to work harder.

Elements of the expectancy theory of motivation 

The expectancy theory of motivation has three core components; expectancy, instrumentality, and valence.


 expectancy theory of motivation

A person believes that the harder they work and the more effort they put into their work, the better the outcome. It is also intertwined with a person’s belief in themselves and their confidence in completing a job. Expectancy is when a person expects the effort they put in to pay off and complete the goal they intend to complete. Expectancy is impacted by variables that include having the necessary skills for their task, having the proper resources, having access to critical information, and acquiring the proper assistance to do the work. Employees have varying expectations and levels of self-assurance regarding their abilities. As a result, management must determine what resources, training, or supervision are required by personnel.



People believe that the intensity and level of effort they put into their work will be reciprocated with rewards of the same intensity. Belief in the individuals who determine who gets what outcome, the transparency of choosing who gets what outcome and the clarity of the link between performance and outcomes are all variables that influence instrumentality. A reward should meet certain fundamental principles to positively influence someone’s future achievements at work; The incentive that a team member can expect should be conveyed explicitly.

Moreover, a person should have faith in their boss or supervisor to reward them appropriately for their work. And finally, the employee should have a clear understanding of what they will receive as a reward. These rewards can be presented to employees in different forms, including but not limited to; a pay increase, a promotion, recognition, a sense of accomplishment.


The significance that an individual attaches to the predicted outcome is referred to as valence. It is the anticipated, not the actual, level of pleasure an employee expects to feel after completing their objectives. In other words, it is the value you place on the predicted consequence of your performance. This is very dependent on your requirements, goals, values, and sources of inspiration. Valence can also be referred to as people’s emotional orientations regarding outcomes. The intensity of an employee’s desire for extrinsic (money, promotion, time off, perks) or intrinsic happiness, and as a result, management must learn what workers value.

How to apply the expectancy theory of motivation in your workplace, and why it’s helpful?

As a leader, there a several points you need to contemplate before you consider implementing the expectancy theory of motivation. These key points are essential because they ensure that the theory is being applied correctly and is working to its full extent so your efforts won’t be wasted.

  • As a leader or supervisor, it is your job to distribute these rewards mentioned in previous paragraphs. Therefore, you must ensure that every promise you make does not go against the code of conduct of your company or is within your capabilities. You would not want your promises to be void of meaning.
  • Your rewards need to be distributed in a fair and logical manner 
  • The goals you set for your team need to challenge their efforts without being impossible to achieve.
  • Every member of your workplace has capabilities that differ from their coworkers. Therefore, as a leader, you need to identify each team member’s strengths and weaknesses to decide the criteria in which their goals lay and what they need to do to achieve the reward promised.

Vroom discovered that an employee’s performance is influenced by personal characteristics such as personality, talents, skills, knowledge, and experience. Although people may have various aims, the idea implies that they might be motivated if they have these beliefs; there is a strong relationship between their effort and the results produced.

 expectancy theory of motivation

Disadvantages and limitations of using the expectancy theory of motivation 

As efficient and helpful as the expectancy theory of motivation seems, that is not always the case. There are some setbacks to it concerning a few aspects in the work area, and it is not always applicable in every workplace and every team member.

One of the main limitations is that because many people believe there is a significant degree of connection between performance and rewards, the expectation theory of motivation appears utopian and ineffective. In addition, in many businesses, compensation is not directly connected with performance. Therefore, this theory’s application is restricted. Moreover, it is also linked to other factors such as job title, effort, responsibility, education, etc.

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