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Exam advice - motivation

Exam advice - how might motivation appear in an examination?


The most common scenario that you are likely to confront in an exam question, or case study, will be a drop in morale and often output (both quantitative and qualitative). You will then be asked to put forward ways of solving these problems. Other factors that might appear in a question are:

  • Increasing levels of absenteeism
  • Increasing labour turnover
  • Rising costs of production
  • Falling productivity
  • Falling order books

All point to problems with motivation, BUT remember that you will be asked WHY has this happened and WHAT would you do about it. When answering questions on motivation, or problems associated with it, why not think about the following issues:

  1. Has the business got a strong corporate culture and team spirit?
  2. Are the systems for deciding on pay and fringe benefits considered to be fair?
  3. Do the majority of workers feel that their jobs are challenging and satisfying?
  4. Could the decision-making process be taken further down the organisation? If so, where and why?
  5. Is management giving enough recognition, praise etc. to employees for their efforts and achievements?
  6. Are communication flows as effective as they could be?

What to include when answering questions about motivation

  1. Empowerment and the modern approach of giving more workers some control over their working environment. This autonomy could improve motivation and with it quality and other problems listed above. If the quality of output improves, then the value of the output should also rise. That should make the company more competitive.
  2. You might also want to suggest the benefits of team or group work. This enshrines some of the older working practices that were once used - such as job rotation, enrichment and some delegation of tasks.
  3. You must never forget to look and see if simple financial rewards might help boost motivation. Whatever the task being undertaken some increased reward have a positive impact, although you need to consider whether this is practical given the firm's existing financial position.
  4. You will also need to think about financial and non-financial incentives and re-visit the motivation theorists.

Exam skills

When they set questions, examiners are looking to test particular skills and below we look at some of these skills and how they may be tested in a question on motivation.


Application means selecting what is relevant to the questions asked and not the chance to LIST everything you know about every one of the above motivation theorists!


LINKS with other areas of the course are important here. Explain WHY you would suggest a certain theory and WHAT are the advantages and disadvantages, costs and benefits, to the company being discussed. Remember that happy people are more than just well paid individuals. Think what makes you work hard and why. It can be as simple as having a nice chat with someone. However, also be aware that happy people are NOT always productive - they may be satisfied and content, because there is little pressure on them to perform. As in all things, the response should be BALANCED andrelated to the CONTEXT given.


Evaluation is about reaching supported conclusions using the evidence you have gathered and presented, and applying relevant business theory.

This is when our old friend TIME might enter the equation. Things do change and what was once the best way of doing something no longer is. Also, always look for hints about past EXPERIENCES and how these impact on people today and tomorrow.

An essential requirement, when asked to evaluate, is that you reach SUPPORTED and BALANCED CONCLUSIONS and JUDGMENTS. You will need to find evidence from your analysis - data, trends, theories that support your JUDGMENTS. Always examine BOTH sides to an argument or proposition and illustrate why one side is stronger than the other.

If you can combine all of these skills and keep one eye firmly on the fact that most of us are complex beasts and react to a range of different incentives then you should do well. Oh, and always look for useful examples hidden in the text.

So, think about the following as you work on this very important part of your course:

  • Can I link the various theories together to show how thinking on motivation has evolved?
  • Can I set them in context?
  • Is it only money that increases job satisfaction?
  • Where else, and how else, do people gain satisfaction within their lives?
  • Does a 'one size' approach to motivation fit all workers?
  • How do changing circumstances affect motivation within the workplace?
  • Does personality, experience and other attitudes, such as leadership style influence the success or otherwise of motivation theories and their application?
  • Can I set motivation in a wider context and include other factors that now influence people in their place of work, e.g. the role of women or the changes in contracts?

If you practice putting motivation into certain contexts and thinking about how you would react to changing circumstances, then you are following the best revision route to what will appear in your examinations.