The Slice

Applying Vroom's Theory: Boosting Workplace Motivation

September 22, 2023

Why do people do the things they do? Why do some employees seem so eager to complete their tasks while others seem to have no drive to do so? What can you do as an employer to increase motivation in the workplace? Many psychologists have taken a look at these questions throughout history, and many theories have emerged to try and answer them. One such theory is Vroom's theory of expectancy.

Why do people do the things they do? Why do some employees seem so eager to complete their tasks while others seem to have no drive to do so? What can you do as an employer to increase motivation in the workplace?

Many psychologists have taken a look at these questions throughout history, and many theories have emerged to try and answer them.

One such theory is Vroom's theory of expectancy. This theory pushes back against some other popular motivation theories that existed at the time it was proposed, stating that the relationship between an individual's workplace behavior and their goals isn't quite as simple as scientists commonly believed it to be.

Though this theory suggests that goals can vary between individuals, there is a shared belief that can motivate them to perform at their best. This involves understanding that their efforts and performance are positively related; they'll receive a desirable reward if they perform favorably, an important need will be met by the reward, and the effort is worthwhile in order to meet the need that the reward helps them achieve.

What Is Vroom's Expectancy Theory of Motivation?

The expectancy theory is the idea that people are guided in their behaviors by what they think will produce the best possible outcome. This is a theory that is, at its core, about the mental processes people go through when they are making a choice between different options.

Under the expectancy theory of motivation, the notion is that people will choose between behaviors based on their expectations of the different outcomes and the desirability of those outcomes.

The first person to propose this theory was Victor Vroom, a psychologist and business school professor at the Yale School of Management. The primary emphasis of this theory is that organizations should directly relate the rewards they give out to the performance of individuals and teams. Furthermore, the rewards that they give out should both be desired by the recipients and deserved by them.

Motivation is one of the many factors that can have a huge impact on productivity in the workplace. Make sure you check out our recent post about how employee motivation can affect how work gets done in your organization.

The Key Elements of Expectancy Theory

There are three primary elements to expectancy theory that you'll want to understand before trying to apply it in your workplace. These variables are important components that help create a correlation between an individual's efforts and performance.

According to Vroom, all three of these elements interact psychologically to compose a motivational drive that leads employees to behave the way they do.


The first of these three elements is expectancy. This is defined as an individual's belief that their rewards might rise if they were to increase the effort they put into something. This is what helps to motivate people to go through all the trouble to get a job done right, including gathering all of the right tools and performing the necessary actions.

There are a number of factors that are commonly associated with a person's level of expectancy, including self-efficacy, goal difficulty, and control.

Self-efficacy relates to an individual's belief in their abilities to get what they need to get done successfully and the fact that this can impact their level of motivation. How difficult a goal is can also have an impact on a person's expected outcome from doing a job or task. Finally, a person's effort toward a job can also be influenced by how much control they feel over their performance.

Considering that different employees have their own levels of confidence about their own abilities and expectations of what they are capable of, it becomes the role of management to determine which training, resources, or supervision are needed.


Valence refers to how much importance an individual places on the outcome they expect from their hard work. This can vary quite a bit between people and is based on a person's goals, needs, sources of motivation, and values.

It's worth noting that valence is about a person's expected satisfaction for a particular outcome, not the actual satisfaction they receive if they are rewarded in a way they expect.

In short, valence has to do with the way that people are emotionally oriented towards potential outcomes, aka rewards. In order to understand how to motivate employees, employers have to determine what it is exactly that their employees value. Some might value intrinsic rewards, such as the satisfaction of a job well done, while others might value extrinsic rewards, such as time off, a promotion, benefits, and so on.

Are you searching for the perfect way to push your employees toward excellence? Consider using some of these workplace competition ideas to excite and motivate your team.


When a person holds the belief of instrumentality, it means that they believe their performance in the workplace directly impacts the reward they will receive.

There are several basic guidelines that typically dictate whether or not a reward will have a positive influence on a person's future work ethic and motivation, including:

  • Crystal clear communication about what rewards individuals can expect when they perform at certain levels.

  • Individuals themselves have crystal clear expectations for what the rewards will be and how they receive them.

  • Individuals actually trust that the appropriate reward will be given out by management for their efforts.

Essentially, instrumentality is an employee's perception regarding whether they believe they'll actually receive the reward they see as valuable, even if a manager has promised that outcome. It's a critical task of managers that they follow through on delivering the rewards they promise and that employees understand that management is trustworthy in this way.

Are you interested in making your team more productive? Make sure you check out our recent post about eight key psychological theories for team productivity.

How to Use Vroom's Expectancy Theory to Boost Motivation

Now that we have a clear sense of the ideas proposed by Vroom through his expectancy theory, it's time to look at the practical steps you can take to apply this theory in the workplace.

Make Sure You Can Deliver on Your Promises

One of the most important things you'll want to do to utilize Vroom's theory in your workplace is to ensure that the promises you make to your team align with what your company allows. Check your employer's policies before you start offering rewards, because there's a chance you won't be able to deliver.

It's important not to compromise the trust between a team and management by making promises you can't keep. This can have a seriously negative impact on team motivation regardless of what you're offering, as they might not trust that you'll follow through on the other end.

Create Achievable (Yet Challenging) Goals

There is a sweet spot on the spectrum from easy to impossible– this is where you want to set goals for your team.

You want to make sure they can reach them, but keep them challenging enough that they are engaging and allow each individual to grow and develop.

Match Up Skills With Tasks

A crucial aspect of motivating your team is having a deep understanding of the unique skills each individual brings to the table. By being able to identify each team member's strong suits and matching them with the appropriate tasks, you'll be benefiting everyone involved.

People tend to have a lot more confidence in their own abilities when they know they have the necessary skills, and the task will likely be accomplished more quickly and competently when you have the right brain on the case.

Create a Link Between Performance and Rewards

Your expectations for your team and the rewards they can expect for meeting certain requirements should be communicated clearly. Your team needs to trust that you will follow through on what you're promising, and the more transparent you are, the greater this trust will be.

It's generally not a good idea to have much in the way of a gray area when it comes to linking performance to rewards. When possible, make the qualifications for receiving a reward based on measurable metrics. Even better, making it easy for your employees to track their own performance using these metrics can help boost trust.

Be Fair and Rational in Distributing Rewards

Whenever you're giving out rewards, it's important that these are fairly distributed.

An individual's reward should be reasonably matched with the task they performed and the level of effort it required.

Other Popular Motivational Theories

Psychologists and other professionals have tried to define what motivates people to do what they do throughout history. Many different theories have been proposed over the years, Vroom's theory only being one of them. To help you gain greater insight into the ideas surrounding what motivates people, let's take a quick look at some of the other dominant motivational theories.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

A number of different motivational theories have arisen surrounding the idea that people are driven by basic biological needs and our desire (or need) to fulfill them. One of the most well-known motivational theories in this regard is Maslow's hierarchy of needs.

First introduced back in 1943 by Abraham Maslow, he continued to expand upon his ideas throughout his career. The basic premise is that people first are motivated by certain basic psychological and physiological needs and progress towards more complex needs as these simpler needs are met.

The Instinct Theory of Motivation

The instinct theory of motivation posits that there are innate biological tendencies every organism is born with that give them a shot at survival. Instincts, under this theory, drive all of the behaviors of all animals.

One of the first psychologists to propose this idea was William McDougall. He believed that there were three key elements to instinctive behavior– emotion, behavior, and perception.

Sigmund Freud was also a notable proponent of an instinctual motivational theory by suggesting that life and death instincts drive human behavior. Other psychologists, such as William James, identified several different essential instincts that he believed were necessary for survival, such as love, fear, anger, cleanliness, and shame.

The Arousal Theory of Motivation

The arousal theory of motivation puts forward the idea that behavior is driven by the desire to increase or decrease arousal. This theory proposes that there is an ideal level of arousal that is unique to each individual. When our arousal level doesn't match up with our optimal range, we behave in ways that we believe will help us reach that homeostatic level of arousal.

For example, a person might seek stimulation when their arousal level drops too low. This could mean going out drinking with friends at a bar. When people feel their arousal level is too high, they might seek a relaxing activity like taking a nap or reading a book.

Under this theory, arousal can be physical, emotional, or cognitive.

Offering Your Team Rewards That Suit Their Needs

If you manage a remote team of workers, there's a good chance your crew is made up of diverse individuals with different desires, needs, and goals. At the same time, they all have something in common– they work from home and not in an office where they're surrounded by coworkers.

While there are many awesome benefits to remote work, it does mean that extra, deliberate effort must be made to create a sense of togetherness and build strong teams. Individuals tend to become lonely and feel isolated when they aren't surrounded by their coworkers, which can negatively impact the employee, the team, and the organization as a whole.

At PizzaTime, it's our mission to help remote teams create memorable experiences and have the opportunity to get to know each other better. Beyond that, we believe in the power of shared experiences to help create stronger, more effective, productive, and enduring teams.

Whether you want to reward your team for a job well done or start incorporating team-building activities into meetings, you can start your order today.

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