Understanding Adam’s Equity Theory of Motivation – Process Model

Adams' Equity Theory of Motivation
Motivation drives us to achieve our desired goals

Motivation is the force that drives us to achieve our goals. In the field of Psychology, the theories of motivation have been divided into two categories- Content Models and Process Models. While the Content Models describe what stimulates people, Process Models tell us how we achieve the said motivation. There are 4 major process theories Reinforcement Theory, Theory of Expectancy, Goal Setting Theory & Adam’s Equity Theory of Motivation.

Adam’s Equity Theory of Motivation is one of the prominent Process Model.

What is Equity Theory?

In 1963, John Stacey Adams put forth the ‘Equity Theory’. Adams’ Equity Theory states that people are motivated when they find a balance between the contribution that they put in for a task and their achievements out of it. When people make an attempt to level these ‘inputs’ and ‘outputs’, Adams believes that the understanding of our own contribution and comparing it with others, both play a role in determining our motivation.

Altogether, a person wants that the rewards received by them or by others for any work done must be fair and equal. When there is reward equity, people remain motivated. Otherwise, motivation to achieve a goal fades away.

Adam’s Components of Motivation

Adam’s motivation theory establishes a stable relationship between the efforts put in by a person and the rewards achieved. Let us understand these two components of the Equity Theory to grasp the sense behind the theory.

  1. Inputs

To achieve any goal, one must put in some effort. Any contribution that an individual makes towards a certain task is his/her input. For example, to engage your clients, you make an attractive presentation. So, your time and efforts, along with the presentation that you have prepared are your inputs.

Thus, inputs can include both physical and emotional labor. Contribution in the form of time, manual work, loyalty, prior experience and education, teamwork, attendance, enthusiasm etc. all account for ‘inputs’.

  1. Outputs

As a result of the inputs provided by an individual, he is given compensation in exchange. The outcomes that an individual thus receives for his efforts are the ‘outputs’ in the Equity Theory’. An example of such outputs would include receiving a good job opportunity after studying hard to receive a degree.

Just like the inputs, these rewards can also be tangible and intangible. Tangible outputs include salary of an employee, marks given to a student, promotion, pay raise, job security and other benefits. On the other hand, intangible outputs can range from praising to pride and recognition. The outcomes depend on the significance of the input.

Related: All you need to know about performance objectives

The ‘Equity’ in Equity Theory

Equity Theory
Balance between inputs and outputs

As mentioned earlier, an individual remains motivated when he believes that the outputs are fair vis a vis his inputs and also equal when compared to others in their working population. Let us discuss the factors that need to be in equity to motivate an individual.

  • Input and Output

When an individual makes efforts to complete a task, he must receive reimbursement which is fair for his labor. For a fair relationship to exist between the input and the output, the person must feel that what he is receiving is satisfactory to what he is giving. When this happens, the person will be motivated to work in that particular organizational setting.

This fairness can depend on the norms of the organization or the standards set by society. Once this equitability is laid down, an individual tends to compare his rewards with others. Hence arrives the need for the second equity.

  • Output and Peer Output

The Equity Theory mentions that in order to ascertain motivation, the rewards of an individual must also be equivalent to the outcomes received by his peers. For example, if your teammate is rewarded with a paid vacation after the success of a project that you were working on together, you’ll be motivated if you receive the same perks.

When individuals perceive that they are being treated equally when they engage in ‘social comparison’, they will remain motivated.

Imbalanced: Equity and Motivation

When the balance desired by the Equity Theory is not met, the homeostasis gets disturbed and creates distress in the individual. In this case, the individual can either change the level of his inputs or demand a change in the output received. So, this can bring about an improved level of contribution from the individual and result in his development, or, it can make the person uncomfortable and the outcome can be a lack of confidence and self-esteem.

Equity Theory: Adams' Motivation
Imbalance can lead to distress

Application of the Equity Theory

  • The Equity Theory can help an individual assess his desired inputs and outputs thus leading to better motivation and development.
  •  A good leader can employ the tactics of Adams’ motivation theory to maintain engagement and performance.
  • In organizations, the HR Department can benefit a lot from the Equity Theory. From determining the pay scale to employee retention, this theory can be very helpful.

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