Vroom’s Expectancy Theory of Motivation

Vroom's Expectancy Theory of Motivation

Expectancy Theory was proposed by Victor Vroom in his 1964 paper “Work and Motivation.” It differs slightly from other motivational theories (Like Herzberg and Maslow‘s theories) in that it doesn’t attempt to explain what motivates people but instead focuses on the related thought processes that can motivate people (Luneneburg, F.C.,2011).

Expectancy Theory attempts to explain the thought process behind what an employee may be thinking when they work to complete a task and how it relates to their own motivation towards the completion of that task. The employee may wonder how this task helps them to achieve their own goals, with the level of motivation being tied to what they personally hope to achieve by completing the task. The more effort required to meet the task goals, the more the employee may expect in return in order to be motivated enough to reach the desired acceptable outcome and performance levels.

Expectancy theory makes four assumptions (Vroom, 1964)(Luneneburg, F.C.,2011):

  1. People choose jobs based on their needs and past experiences
  2. Behavior/Actions (work effort) is dictated by conscious choices
  3. What motivates people is different for each individual
  4. People will work to optimize their personal benefits when given options

… a person will exert a high effort if he/she believes there is reasonable probability that the effort will lead to the attainment of an organizational goal, and the attainment of the organizational goal will become an instrument through which that person will attain his/her personal goals. (Mathibe, I., 2008)

Basic Expectancy Theory Model

Basic Expectancy Theory Model

According to Expectancy Theory, employees need to see a direct relationship between their work and the attainment of their personal goals. If employees believe that those who perform above minimum levels or put in more effort do not gain any advantage towards achieving personal goals, the employees may only perform at a barely acceptable level or put in the minimum amount of required effort.

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Maslow’s, McClelland’s and Expectancy Theories

Effort and Expectancy

Is the work worth it? Expectancy is the assessment of the work needed to complete a job or task. Individuals will estimate the amount of effort that is required to meet the goals or the acceptable outcome of the task and its relationship to their personal goals. If the employee believes that work assigned to them is not worth the effort they may not lose motivation (impacting performance) or not fully complete the task. The employee may even choose a different job that they believe may meet their personal goals better.

Expectancy of task completion can be shown as a probability ranging from 0 to 1. The probability of 0 means the employee does not believe the effort will lead to an acceptable outcome; the employee can see no relationship between the task and their personal goals (Luneneburg, F.C.,2011). A probability of 1 means that the employee believes that an acceptable outcome is almost certain to be met and the employee sees a relationship between their level of effort and their personal goals.

Performance and Instrumentality

With instrumentality, the employee makes estimates about how much their task performance relates to their personal goals. If an employee believes that below performing employees receive the same rewards, the employee may not perform as well. The employee should be able to see a relationship between how well they perform and the personal rewards they receive in order to increase their motivation.

Instrumentality can also be viewed as a probability between 0 and 1. If an employee perceives that a relationship between their performance always exists, the probability of it existing on new tasks is nearly certain and would be a 1 (Luneneburg, F.C.,2011). With 0, the employee sees no such relationship.

Reward and Valence

Valence is how much an employee prefers certain rewards over other rewards. The reward needs to be more desirable than alternatives. If I gain more rewards by reducing my effort, the outcome could be a reduction of effort. The employee will choose the outcome most associated with their own goals.

Valence can be shown on a scale that ranges from -1 to 1 (Luneneburg, F.C.,2011). A 0 level of valence shows that the employee is indifferent to an award. They could receive the award or not receive the award, they don’t really care. Anything above a 0 is more desirable to an employee, while below a 0 is less desirable to an employee.

Motivation and Vroom’s Expectancy Equation

Using the probabilities for expectancy, instrumentality, and valence, Victor Vroom believed that it is possible to calculate how motivated employees are (Luneneburg, F.C.,2011).

Vroom’s Expectancy Equation:

Motivation = Expectancy X Instrumentality X Valence


M = E x I x V

The higher the probability of the factors, the higher the motivation. Interesting to note in this equation is that if any of the factors are 0, the resulting motivation is predicted to be 0.



Vroom, V.H. (1964). Work and motivation. Oxford, England: Wiley. Can be Retrieved From https://psycnet.apa.org/record/1964-35027-000

Luneneburg, F.C. (2011) Expectancy Theory of Motivation: Motivating by Altering Expectations. Retrieved From http://www.nationalforum.com/Electronic%20Journal%20Volumes/Luneneburg,%20Fred%20C%20Expectancy%20Theory%20%20Altering%20Expectations%20IJMBA%20V15%20N1%202011.pdf

Mathibe, I. (2008) Expectancy Theory and Its Implications for Employee Motivation. Retrieved From https://scholars.fhsu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1211&context=alj


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