6 min read

Expectancy Theory Of Motivation In The Workplace: What Motivates Employees?

Expectancy Theory Of Motivation In The Workplace: What Motivates Employees?

Motivation is the driving force behind employee performance and productivity in any organization. Understanding employee motivation can lead to a more engaged and satisfied workforce. In fact, a study by the Hay Group found that engaged employees can generate 43% more revenue.

One theory that explains employee motivation, which leads to more engagement in teamwork and enhances overall productivity, is Vroom's Expectancy Theory of Motivation.

In this article, we will overview the key principles of Vroom’s Expectancy Theory of Motivation and explore how leaders and managers can apply these principles to improve team performance and satisfaction in the workplace.

Table Of Contents:

  1. What Is The Expectancy Theory Of Motivation?

  2. What Are The Elements Of The Expectancy Theory Of Motivation?

  3. What Is The EPO Model?

  4. How Can Managers Use The Principles Of Expectancy Theory?


What Is The Expectancy Theory Of Motivation?

The Expectancy Theory of Motivation, also known as the VIE theory, is proposed by Victor Vroom, a Canadian psychologist. The theory suggests that people are motivated to work hard when they believe their efforts will lead to a desired outcome and when they value that outcome. Vroom proposes that motivation is influenced by both how likely people, in this case employees, think they are to achieve a goal and how much they value that goal.

The VIE theory stands for Valence, Instrumentality, and Expectancy which are the three key elements that influence employee beliefs.

Let’s take an example of expectancy theory of motivation in the workplace.

Imagine an employee, Sarah, who works in a sales department. Sarah believes that if she works harder and makes more sales calls (expectancy), she will increase her sales performance and earn more commission (valence). She also trusts that her manager will promote her for her efforts (instrumentality). This belief motivates Sarah to put in more effort in her sales activities.

According to the VIE theory, employees are motivated in the workplace by their beliefs about how effort leads to performance, how performance leads to rewards, and how appealing the rewards are.

Are you struggling to motivate your employees? If so, you need to read this  which will help you turn that around.


What Are The Elements Of The Expectancy Theory Of Motivation?

The VIE theory is based on the idea that an employee's motivation to perform a specific task or behavior in the workplace is determined by their beliefs regarding the effort-performance relationship, the performance-reward relationship, and the attractiveness or value of the rewards.

These beliefs are influenced by three key elements:

Valence (V), Instrumentality (I), and Expectancy (E)

By understanding and managing these three elements, people leaders and managers can effectively motivate their employees to achieve higher levels of performance and satisfaction and boost team effort.


Valence (V)

Valence refers to the value or attractiveness that an employee places on the rewards or outcomes. The more a team member values the outcomes, the more they will be motivated to put the effort on a given task. For example, some employees may value financial rewards more than recognition, while others may value job satisfaction or work-life balance



In a marketing team, Emily feels most motivated by recognition and chances for career growth (high valence), valuing these more than financial rewards. She believes hitting targets will bring her acknowledgement and potential promotions. In contrast, her colleague, Mark, cares more about financial incentives. The different levels of the value they put to the outcome influence how motivated they are and how hard they work.

There are several factors that influence valence like how much an employee values specific outcomes. These include personal values, cultural norms, individual needs, past experiences, social comparison, future prospects, and goal difficulty.


Instrumentality (I)

Instrumentality is the belief that successful performance will lead to certain outcomes or rewards. It is the perceived probability that an individual's performance will be rewarded. Employees must believe that if they perform well, they will receive the desired outcomes, such as recognition, promotion, or a bonus. If this belief is lacking, motivation may be reduced.



In a sales team, Alex believes that if he exceeds his sales targets, he will receive a performance bonus. This belief in the relationship between his performance and the reward (instrumentality) motivates him to work hard to achieve his goals.

Some of the most common factors that influence instrumentality include trust in the reward system, consistency of rewards, reward attractiveness, clarity of performance-reward relationship.


Expectancy (E)

This refers to employees’ belief that their effort will lead to increased and successful performance. If an employee believes that putting in more effort will result in better performance, they are more likely to be motivated to exert that effort.

Let’s take an example of a project manager, Sophia. Sarah believes that if she puts in extra effort in planning and organizing the project (high expectancy), the project will be completed on time and within budget. She is confident in her ability to coordinate the team and manage the project effectively.

The factors influencing the level of expectancy mainly include employee’s personal capabilities, goal difficulty, and perceived control. These factors collectively impact employees’ belief in their ability to succeed in a given task, influencing employee motivation and effort at the workplace.


What Is The EPO Model?

The EPO (Expectancy-Performance-Outcome) model is a variant or extension of Vroom's Expectancy Theory of Motivation. It adds a new dimension to the theory - attitudes about himself, his work, and the degree of trust in himself. The Model focuses on the individual's perceptions of their performance and how it relates to the expected outcome.

The EPO model helps to explain how employees evaluate their performance and adjust their motivation based on their perceptions.

Here's a brief overview of each component:

  1. Expectancy: similar to Vroom's theory, expectancy in the EPO model refers to the individual's belief that their effort will result in the desired level of performance. It reflects their trust in the process, belief in themselves, their confidence in their ability to perform the task.
  2. Performance: this component considers the individual's perception of their actual performance level. It assesses how they believe their performance compares to what is required to achieve the desired outcome.
  3. Outcome: the outcome in the EPO model refers to the individual's perception of the actual outcome or reward they receive based on their performance. It reflects their assessment of the relationship between their performance and the outcome.


How Can Managers Use The Principles Of Expectancy Theory?

You can apply expectation theory in your leadership practices to improve the motivation of your team by following these steps:


Make Reward System And Distribution Fair

Establish a fair and transparent reward system that links performance to rewards. You need to make sure that employees value the rewards and find them meaningful. Also, the rewards you offer should match the effort and performance of the employees.


Set Clear Expectations

You should clearly define performance expectations and provide employees with the necessary resources, feedback, and support to achieve those expectations. Ensure that employees understand how their effort and performance will help them meet the expectations. This can include quantitative or numerical goals that team members can easily track to see how they're performing. To be on the same page with your team members, you can schedule regular catch-up meetings to review progress, offer feedback, and provide support.


Provide Training And Development

According to employee motivation statistics, many employees are motivated by team trainings that create opportunities for career growth. For this, you can offer training and development opportunities to enhance your employees' skills and abilities.

By providing training and development to your team members, you can increase the likelihood of positive outcomes, such as improved performance and career aspirations. This is especially effective to support the instrumentality in a team.

For example, by participating in diversity and inclusion training, you can create a more supportive and equitable work environment where all employees feel valued and empowered to perform at their best.


Offer Regular Feedback On Performance

Another step to apply the expectancy theory in the workplace is feedback system. For this, you should provide timely and constructive feedback on employee performance to support the link between effort and performance.

Giving regular positive feedback to your team members can increase expectancy, while constructive feedback can help improve performance.

Download Your Copy of the Giving Effective Feedback Template


Recognize And Reward Performance

Studies have shown that 39% of employees believe they are not sufficiently appreciated at work, and 77% say they would increase their efforts if they received more recognition.

To maintain high level of motivation in the workplace, leaders should recognize and reward employees based on their efforts and achievements. This can include both financial rewards and non-financial rewards such as recognition and opportunities for advancement. This approach will help you increase the motivation in your team and create workplace culture for appreciation and excellence.


Encourage Goal Setting

Moving on, you need help employees set realistic bur achievable goals. Goal setting can increase expectancy by clarifying performance expectations and providing a clear target for employees to work towards.


Promote a Positive Work Environment

A positive workplace culture is essential for business success. Over 50% of executives believe that a strong corporate culture boosts productivity, creativity, profitability, overall company value, and growth rates.

Create a work environment that is supportive and encouraging. A positive work environment can increase self-motivation and valence in employees by making the rewards of good performance more attractive.


Put Trust In A Person's Capabilities

One way managers can apply the principles of expectancy theory is by placing trust in their employees' abilities. For this, you need to give control and create a sense of accountability.

When employees feel trusted and empowered, they are more likely to be motivated to perform well and meet or exceed expectations.

By giving autonomy and creating a sense of accountability, you will delegate decision-making responsibilities among the team members. This can boost team effort and increase motivation. The reason is that employees feel more invested in the outcomes of their work and are more likely to take pride in their achievements.

Align Tasks To The Employee's Skill Set

When you align tasks to an employee's skill set, you create a space for maximizing their potential and motivation.

There are several ways that you can apply to match skills and tasks. These can include conducting skill and effectiveness assessments, assigning tasks that match skills, providing skill development opportunities, offering feedback and coaching, providing challenging tasks for growth, recognizing and celebrating achievements, etc.

Task and skill set alignment increases motivation, as employees feel more invested in the outcomes of their work and are more likely to take pride in their achievements.


What’s Next? 

Understanding what drives employee motivation is crucial for effective team management and reaching company's short and long term goals.

To effectively implement Vroom's Expectancy Theory of Motivation in your workplace, it's highly recommended to cultivate a workplace culture and environment that actively supports and promotes high employee engagement. Programs like Team Coaching can provide a supportive setting where teams enhance their cohesion, develop new skills, and build strong relationships, all within the framework of the company's shared goals.

Encouraging your team to participate in such developmental programs enables the practical application of building a highly motivated team, resulting in a more motivated and cohesive teamwork.

Join the Free 30-Day Leadership Challenge 


13 Ways to Help Employees with Self-Motivation at Work

5 min read

13 Ways to Help Employees with Self-Motivation at Work

Have you noticed the get-up and go has got up and went for one or many of your employees? If so, you’re not alone. Many leaders across all industries...

Read More
6 Leadership Behaviors That Crush Motivation

4 min read

6 Leadership Behaviors That Crush Motivation

Employee motivation is essential to a team’s and organization’s success. From increased productivity and team performance to decreased turnover and...

Read More
Is Job Enrichment the Answer to Lacking Employee Motivation?

4 min read

Is Job Enrichment the Answer to Lacking Employee Motivation?

“Forget praise. Forget punishment. Forget cash. You need to make their jobs more interesting.” This type of statement is one that you could easily...

Read More