Motivation Theories & Law Enforcement Motivation


Motivation is the driving force that inspires people to take action and pursue our goals. It gives us the energy and determination to overcome challenges and achieve success in studies and career.

Motivation is important in any activity, and especially for a police officer while they are working. It helps them to stay focused and dedicated to their duties, which can be physically and emotionally demanding at times. It gives police officers the energy and drive to perform their duties to the best of their ability and to handle difficult situations with professionalism and integrity.

This essay on motivation theories focuses on various approaches to motivation and their importance in increasing productivity levels. First, it explains how different motivation theories offered the ways to encourage the desired organizational behavior. Then, it explains how these theories can be applied to the case of law enforcement motivation.

Maslow’s Motivation Theory

Maslow’s theory of motivation seeks to explore the different needs that apply to individuals when it comes to self-motivation and motivating others. Maslow’s central argument is that different people are often motivated by a variety of factors. Nevertheless, the needs that motivate individuals have different levels of influence.

Consequently, Maslow developed a hierarchy of needs that addresses individuals’ source of motivation. The hierarchy of needs states that each motivational-need has to be satisfied starting with the most basic one and proceeding to the most complex ones. Maslow’s theory of hierarchy of needs recognizes that satisfying the lower-order-needs necessitates concern with higher-order-needs.

Maslow specifies lower level needs as those wants that can be satisfied through external means such as feeding, clothing, and security among others. On the other hand, higher-level needs cover those wants that can only be satisfied through internal means such as self-esteem, social standing, and self-actualization.

According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, there are five levels of needs that act as motivators to all human beings. In the first level of needs, there is food and shelter among other physiological needs. The second level covers pronounced-needs that include security, job permanence, health-benefits, and seniority. In the consecutive third level, there are social needs such as affiliation, team-membership, friendship, and belonging.

Therefore, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs specifies that human beings are motivated by their individual-needs. Furthermore, the individual-needs that have not yet been satisfied are a core source of motivation.

According to Maslow, it is possible to motivate human beings using the needs that are included in Maslow’s hierarchy starting with the wants in the lowest level and then moving up the ladder. Maslow’s theory is popular mostly due to its simple logic. However, Maslow’s theory is often challenged because it lacks adequate empirical research to back it up.

Alderfer’s Motivation Theory

Alderfer’s theory of motivation is an improvement of Maslow’s theory. Alderfer’s theory recognizes three core-needs namely ERG (Existence, Relatedness, and Growth). According to Alderfer’s ERG theory, existence needs cover those wants that are essential for basic survival. Existence needs include safety and physiological requirements such as secure habitats, food, and clothing. Relatedness needs “as specified by Alderfer are similar to Maslow’s external and social status wants” (Latham, 2007).

Relatedness needs include relationships with others and social status. Alderfer’s growth needs cover self-actualization and internal self-esteem. According to Alderfer, growth needs are responsible for individuals’ aspirations to effect positive changes on themselves and their environment. Growth needs as specified by Alderfer include Maslow’s fourth and fifth hierarchy levels.

The main difference between Alderfer and Maslow’s theories is that Alderfer does not recognize the ‘hierarchy of needs’. The research that Alderfer carried out when he was formulating his theory revealed that “motivational needs were not in a hierarchy” (Latham, 2007).

According to the ERG theory, motivation can be driven by more than one need in a single instance. In addition, if the realization of one need is compromised the desire to achieve other needs increases. Therefore, factors such as education-levels, cultural orientations, and social statuses can have a direct impact on motivation levels.

As opposed to classifying needs in accordance with hierarchies, Alderfer classifies them according to their ‘concreteness’. Consequently, existence needs are the most concrete wants in the course of motivation because they can be easily verified. The other two needs (relatedness and growth) are considered less concrete because they involve complex relationships that are difficult to verify.

Herzberg’s Motivation Theory

Herzberg’s theory is “also known as hygiene theory and it explores the relationship between job satisfaction and job performance” (Latham, 2007). Herzberg’s theory emphasizes hygiene factors or the aspects that can effectively hamper job satisfaction. Therefore, hygiene factors are the sources of dissatisfaction in the course of performance.

Hygiene factors are instituted by organizations with the view of eliminating unpleasant experiences in the work-environment. Examples of hygiene factors include company policies, working conditions, terms of employment, and quality of supervision.

The motivation element in Herzberg’s theory is covered through the institution of motivators or the aspects that make people want to work more. Motivators are also “inner factors that propel human beings towards a particular direction” (Robbins & Judge, 2009).

Motivators are closely connected with individuals’ needs for personal growth. The effectiveness of motivators could drive individuals to operate at an above average rate. Examples of motivators include garnering recognition, stimulating work, responsibility, status, and opportunity for advancement.

The application of Herzberg’s theory calls for organizational environments that feature less hygiene factors and more motivators. Hygiene factors are usually considered as factors that are beyond the control of human beings. However, motivation in organizations depends on how well the hygiene factors are managed so that they do not interfere with individuals’ performance. If hygiene factors are not adequately managed, they can act as distracters.

On the other hand, organizations should provide adequate motivators with the view of encouraging superior performance. The main premise of Herzberg’s theory is that “intrinsic factors are related to job satisfaction, while intrinsic factors are associated with job dissatisfaction” (Robbins & Judge, 2009). Therefore, Herzberg promotes the notion that ‘productive workers are happy workers’ while at the same time disputing the notion that ‘unproductive workers are unhappy workers’.

McGregor’s Motivation Theory

McGregor provides a complex way of understanding motivation by pitting one set of assumptions (theory x) against another set (theory y). When Douglass McGregor was conducting research for his theory, he compiled two lists of assumptions that were in stark contrast.

The first list was compiled in the assumption that the most common perceptions were the most effective ones. The other list of was compiled in line with the humanist movement. The humanist movement assumes that the success of individuals depends on contrasting human-actions.

McGregor’s theory x includes several assumptions including the core belief that all employees do not like to work and they will do whatever is in their power to avoid working. Theory x also assumes that motivating employees involves coercing them with tools like punishment and threats. Another assumption of theory x is that achievement does not motivate workers and money and other benefits are the only effective motivators.

In addition, theory x assumes that employees will often avoid taking initiative and they will constantly seek formal guidance. Furthermore, theory x assumes that job security is the main determinant of motivation and when it is guaranteed employees will tend to show little ambition. According to McGregor, managers who believe in theory x motivate employees through pressure, enticements, and other tools of control.

Theory y is also known for its ‘participative management’ element and it operates under the assumption that motivation comes naturally for most individuals. Theory y assumes that among other things, employees consider work as a natural part of life just like play and rest. Theory y also assumes that individuals who are committed to their objectives will often exercise self-control and self-direction.

In addition, theory y assumes that the average worker will often accept responsibility in the course of his/her work. Managers who are guided by theory y motivate their workers by participating in the day-to-day activities of their respective organizations. In addition, theory y managers will often challenge their workers and empower them.

Law Enforcement Motivation

I am familiar with the operations of our local police department especially in relation to its management styles. Recently, there was a change in the local police department owing to the retirement of the long-serving police chief. The previous police chief, Inspector Dickson had headed the department since 1998 and he was known for his tough stance. Dickson’s mode of operation coincided with the McGregor’s description of theory x. Dickson always expected the worst from his workers as well as the rest of the community.

For instance, Dickson would often ‘stalk’ police squad cars when they were in patrol. Dickson’s tough stance was legendary and he never encouraged open cooperation between police officers and the members of the public. On the other hand, his successor, Inspector Shelly operates in line with McGregor’s theory y.

Recent evaluations have indicated that although Dickson was an above-average manager, Shelly’s methods have made the local police department more effective. Shelly often takes part in activities that are usually reserved for junior police officers and has opened the department’s doors to public scrutiny.

Both Shelly and Dickson are effective officers but their modes of motivation are quite different. Dickson used force, intimidation, control, and fear to motivate his officers while Shelly constantly challenges her employees to be responsible and self-driven.


Latham, G. (2007). Work motivation: History, theory, research, and practice. New York, NY: Sage.

Robbins, S. P., & Judge, T. A. (2009). Organizational behavior (13th ed). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Prentice Hall.

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