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Motivational Theories Explaining Susan Smith’s Behavior

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The objective of the option 2 case study 5-6 was to develop a motivational plan for Susan Smith to present to her director of nursing, Jane Couch. Jane is looking for ways to motivate Susan to her prior ‘self’ that was a highly motivated and productive member of the nursing staff. High inpatient census along with increased pressure from the management by an upcoming accreditation visit from The Joint Commission has added a lot of stress on hospital employees, Susan in particular. The following will go over the different principles of the motivational content theory that will develop the plan to enhance Susan’s work experience.

The internal tension felt by Susan is brought on by the inability to have a proper annual performance evaluation. During her assessment, Susan would have been able to voice her concerns to Jane. Even though she received a 5% raise, as did the other staff, this additional compensation doesn’t satisfy her self-esteem, self-actualization, or affiliation needs. Because several needs are being unmet, Susan’s work performance is suffering. She frequently argues with treating physicians and nurses about treatment plans, doesn’t exhibit a very high productivity level and often vocalizes her concerns of not being heard and not receiving enough compensation to do her job even after her more than reasonable raise.

The definition of motivation is the conscious or unconscious stimulus, incentive, or motives for action toward a goal resulting from psychological or social factors, the factors giving the purpose or direction to behavior (Borkowski 2016). Behavior is lead by a person’s desire to satisfy a want or a need. If these wants or needs go unsatisfied, it creates internal tension until the tension can be relieved.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Theory

Abraham Maslow designed Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Theory in 1954. Maslow concluded that human behavior is not controlled only by internal or external factors, but by both and that some elements have precedence over others (Borkowski 2016). This concept helped develop his five-tiered hierarchy of needs theory. The base of his pyramid houses the most basic human needs, which are physiological such as air, water, and food. After basic needs, the demands for safety and security are next. The third tier is the need to be loved and felt like they are needed and approved by others. The fourth tier is self-esteem, receiving respect from others, holding a high social and professional status, recognition, and appreciation. Maslow’s most top level is the individual’s desire to become all that he or she can be or self-actualization (Borkowski 2016). Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs was designed for individuals to satisfy their lower-level needs, to an acceptable state, before being motivated to achieve higher levels in the hierarchy (Borkowski 2016).

As you can see, this theory can account for several of Susan’s behaviors. Jane gave her employees a 5% raise to compensate for the extra workload. This money was accommodating, but still left some of her employee’s needs neglected. Susan was unable to fulfill satisfaction in her third and fourth-tier; therefore, she was unable to feel completely satisfied. The lack of a proper annual review left Susan feeling unappreciated.

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Maslow saw leaders as enlightened and self-actualized beings; far superior to the masses they lead (Soni & Soni 2016). Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Theory suggests private meetings are a great addition to management style to motivate employees such as Susan. A private meeting would allow Jane and Susan to discuss and discrepancies in the work style to motivate Susan to be back to her productive self. If Susan can voice her opinions and fears openly with her supervisor and gain feedback, she will begin to feel more appreciated. If I were in Jane’s shoes, I would also stress to Susan how much she is appreciated by me as well as by the organization. According to Oved (2017), love needs are part of basic needs rather than psychological needs; therefore, they should precede the safety needs in importance. This ideal is being felt by Susan as well. Her ten years of experience is immeasurable as they get ready for the accreditation visit from The Joint Commission. Jane needs to reiterate that fact to her.

Alderfer’s ERG Theory

Alderfer’s ERG Theory was introduced by Clayton Alderfer in 1972 after there were criticisms of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Theory. While Maslow’s Hierarchy had five tiers, the Alderfer ERG Theory only has three categories: existence, relatedness, and growth. Existence is the primary material and physiological requirements such as food, water, pay, fringe benefits, and working conditions. Relatedness is the need to develop and sustain interpersonal relationships with family, friends, supervisors, coworkers, subordinates, and other groups. Growth is an individual’s intrinsic need to be creative and make useful and productive contributions with personal development (Borkowski 2016). The three points in the theory do not have any specific order in which they need to be satisfied for an individual’s behavior to change. This flexibility allows it to be utilized by any person because the needs will be different for different people. Perhaps the most crucial aspect of Alderfer’s ERG theory is the frustration-regression principle. This principle explains that when a barrier prevents an individual from obtaining a higher-level need, and person may ‘regress’ to a lower level need or vice versa to achieve complete satisfaction (Borkowski 2016). This theory explains how Jane’s behavior of just focusing on one aspect of the job, salary, did not satisfy all her employees. Even though Susan received a very generous raise, she regressed stating her salary wasn’t enough compensation to do her job. Susan’s social needs were also not being met due to the additional pressure from upper management as well as being overly busy with patients due to the high census. If Jane were able to prevent detrimental interruptions from her employees, she would be able to focus her attention more on creating opportunities for organizational growth (Snow 2019). Managers experience difficulty focusing their time on higher-level management activities. Activities such as strategizing open innovation and change to promote the success of their company get sidelined because lower-level issues require attention (Snow 2019)

Herzberg’s Two-Factor Theory

Frederick Herzberg developed Herzberg’s Two-Factor Theory, and it is also known as the Motivation-Hygiene Theory. The theory base concept is people only have two sets of needs: 1) avoidance of unpleasantness and 2) personal growth (Borkowski 2016). Herzberg was able to point out the opposite of job satisfaction is not job dissatisfaction but rather no job satisfaction. The same can be right about the opposite of job dissatisfaction is no job satisfaction, not being satisfied with one’s job (Borkowski 2016). As with both of the other motivational theories, Herzberg’s Two-Factor Theory has its criticisms. The thought that even if a single factor may be a motivator for one employee, it may also cause job dissatisfaction for another. For example: if pay did not meet expectations, employees were dissatisfied, but if salary met employee’s expectations, the salary was not needed to achieve satisfaction (Borkowski 2016). Pay will hold no merit to someone working under inadequate supervision and has relationship issues with their supervisor. If the supervisor merely gives them more money to stay, it may not motivate employees. There is no motivation because the demotivating factors are still present (EBA 2016), which proves true with Jane and Susan.

Research states even if Jane gave Susan another raise, it would just make the current situation worse.

Cardenas states, there are five major factors in motivating nurses. It is essential to ask for feedback regularly, involve nurses in leadership, set up mutual understanding, and commit to positive communication. These ideals would make a great addition to any management style, not just those of nurses. Jane would be better able to motivate Susan as well as possibly more of her other nurse employees if implemented. Another good motivator for Susan would be to have Jane remind her about why she became a nurse in the first place. Incentive theory suggests that engaging in an activity that provides positive reinforcement is motivational (LaFerney 2018).


  1. Borkowski, Nancy (2016). Organizational Behavior in Healthcare (3rd ed). Burlington, MA: Jones & Barlett Learning
  2. Cardenas, Heidi. Strategies to Motivate Staff Nurses. Retrieved from:
  3. LaFerney, Michael (2018). Point of Care: What motivates you as a nurse? Reflections on Nursing Leadership. Retrieved from:
  4. Oved, Or. “Rethinking the Place of Love Needs in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.” Society 54.6 (2017): 537–538. Web.
  5. Snow, David. “The Big Picture: How the New Use of an Old Theory Will Enhance Leaders’ Perspective on Management.” The Journal of Applied Business and Economics 21.1 (2019): 117–130. Web.
  6. Soni, Bina, and Soni, Ramesh. “Enhancing Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs for Effective Leadership.” Competition Forum 14.2 (2016): 259–263. Web.
  7. Using Herzberg Motivation Theory to Nurture the Ideal Working Conditions for Motivation. (2016) Retrieved from:

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“Motivational Theories Explaining Susan Smith’s Behavior.” Edubirdie, 29 Jun. 2022,
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