Expectancy Theory

Expectancy theory is a theory of motivation focusing on how and why people become motivated. Business expert Victor Vroom identified the attributes of expectancy theory in 1964, although some researchers believe the original theory dates back to Edward Tolman's work in the 1930s. Tolman, an American psychologist, suggested that human behavior is directly affected more by expectation than by any direct stimuli. Vroom's work, however, greatly impacted the understanding of how cognitive processes affect an employee's motivation to perform.


Expectancy theory consists of three basic components: (1) the employee's expectancy that working hard will lead to his or her desired level of performance; (2) the employee's expectancy that working hard will thus ensure that rewards will follow; and (3) whether or not the employee's perception that the outcome of working hard is worth the effort or value associated with hard work. Vroom's VIE expectancy theory is often formulated using the equation MF (motivational forces) = V (valence) x I (instrumentality) x E (expectancy). The effort exerted by an employee is directly influenced by the expectation (E) that by trying hard, the task can be successfully performed. If, however, the employee believes that trying hard will not generate successful performance (I), the effort exerted by the employee will decline due to a lack of anticipated rewards (V).

Emphasizing choice in decision-making as a tool for achievement and empowerment.

Emphasizing choice in decision-making as a tool for achievement and empowerment.

In the application of this formula, motivational forces (MF) directly relate to those internal and external variables affecting an individual's performance and effort. Employees consistently leverage the results of their efforts with the expectation that hard work will lead to intrinsic or extrinsic rewards. The perception of acquiring potential rewards based on their individual effort must then be measured in terms of value: is my effort worth the reward expected? Expectancy (E), therefore, is directly associated with the innate belief that successful performance will lead to rewards. In an organizational context, individuals maximize their instrumentality through the achievement of high performance goals with the understanding that successful performance will be followed by rewards. When employees perceive that rewards are not congruent with performance, the value (V) of their effort decreases due to the perception that the efforts gained as a result of hard work are not worth the effort expended. The influence of instrumentality and value subsequently affects the effort to which an employee will persist in hard work.

The theoretical implications of expectancy theory are complex and depend upon numerous factors that may possibly influence employee motivation. The degree to which individual employees assigns a value to his or her instrumentality will determine the level of effort devoted to a particular task. Numerous factors must be taken into consideration when measuring the perceived rewards and consequences of effort as postulated by Vroom's expectancy theory. Despite the complexities of expectancy theory, there are numerous applications in education, business, social sciences and government.

—Patricia Hoffman-Miller, MPA, PhD

Baker-Eveleth, L., and R. Stone. “Expectancy Theory and Behavioral Intentions to Use Computer Applications.” Interdisciplinary Journal of Information 3 (2008): 135–46. Print.

Cassar, G., and H. Friedman. “Does Self-Efficacy Affect Entrepreneurial Investment?” Strategic Entrepreneurial Journal 3.3 (2009): 241–60. Print.

Estes, Brent. “Predicting Productivity in a Complex Labor Market: A Sabermetric Assessment of Free Agency on Major League Baseball Performance.” Business Studies Journal 3.1 (2011): 23–58. Print.

Estes, Brent, and Barbara Polnick. “Examining Motivation Theory in Higher Education: An Expectancy Theory Analysis of Tenured Faculty Productivity.” International Journal of Management, Business and Administration 15.1 (2012): n.p. Print.

Jex, Steve M., and Thomas W. Britt. Organizational Psychology: A Scientist-Practitioner Approach. 3rd ed. Malden: Wiley, 2014. Print.

Lunenberg, Fred C. “Expectancy Theory of Motivation: Motivating by Altering Expectations.” International Journal of Management, Business and Administration 15.1(2011): n.p. Print.

Miles, Jeffrey A., ed. New Directions in Management and Organizations Theory. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars, 2014. Print.

Nasri, Wadie, and Lanouar Charfeddine. “Motivating Salespeople to Contribute to Marketing Intelligence Activities: An Expectancy Theory Approach.” International Journal of Marketing Studies 4.1 (2012): 168. Print.

Shweiki, Ehyal, et al. “Applying Expectancy Theory to Residency Training: Proposing Opportunities to Understand Resident Motivation and Enhance Residency Training.” Advances in Medical Education and Practice 6 (2015): 339–46. Print.

Ugah, Akobundu, and Uche Arua. “Expectancy Theory, Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, and Cataloguing Departments.” Library Philosophy and Practice 1(2011): 51. Print.