I am lucky to work in a career that I absolutely enjoy. As a paramedic in the emergency medical services (EMS), I am called upon to help those in my community in the worst of circumstances to help them when they feel helpless. There are drawbacks, however. Many people rely on EMS for problems that even they do not view as emergent, and others just plainly abuse the system. Still, I enjoy being the one called upon to help. My primary motivations are my sense of community, my ability to reduce suffering, and my ability to raise the standard of care within the system. Maslow (1943) includes some of the earliest accepted work on motivational theory, and more contemporary work is based on the acceptance, rejection or modification of his theories, so I will focus on Maslow to begin. My needs, according to Maslow, are not as important to motivation. Need fulfillment will not motivate me to perform; however, a lack of fulfillment may prevent me from performing. This is especially true for Maslow’s lower-order needs. Maslow discusses how emergency situations can “obscure the ‘higher’ motivations [and create] a lopsided view of human capacities and human nature” (p. 375), and while my career is focused on responding to emergencies, this may hold true for me. While Maslow’s theory is not wholly accepted motivational schema (Robbins & Judge, 2010), EMS managers, and other public safety managers, would do well to understand this exception to motivational theory.
Many EMS managers, it seems, subscribe to McGregor’s (1957/2000) theory X without understanding the ramifications or the competing theory Y. There is a deep-seated belief that the workforce is lazy and will do anything possible to undermine the operation. This results in micromanagement tactics that seem to promote an unwillingness to promote the goals of the employer. McGregor highlights this and cautions that it a result of poor management technique, not a cause that is easily rectified by the chosen technique.
Other theories, such as goal-setting, equity theory, and expectancy theory, as described in Robbins and Judge (2010), are all lacking in one particular constant: there is no constant in human behavior. There are a number of ways that a single motivational factor might influence a particular person on any particular day. For any theory to always be true in every situation, it would cease to be a theory and become a law. This being said, as managers, we need to measure the importance of certain tasks and focus our efforts on communicating this importance to the workforce. It is the manner of this communication that will tend to fail or succeed, based on both the needs of the manager and the needs of the employee at the moment the message is passed.
Maslow, A. H. (1943). A theory of human motivation. Psychological Review, 50(4), 370-396. doi:10.1037/h0054346
McGregor, D. (2000). The Human Side of Enterprise (Reprinted from Adventure in thought and action: Proceedings of the fifth anniversary convocation of the School of Industrial Management, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, 1957, April 9. Cambridge, MA: MIT School of Industrial Management). Reflections, 2(1), 6-14. doi:10.1162/152417300569962
Robbins, S. P. & Judge, T. A. (2010). Motivation concepts. Essentials of organizational behavior (pp. 62-79). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.