Expectancy Theory of Motivation

What is the Expectancy Theory of Motivation?

The expectancy theory of motivation was proposed by Victor Vroom at the Yale School of Management, in the 1960s. This theory suggests that an individual’s motivation is a result of a rational calculation. There is a measurable link between the type and amount of effort invested and the amount and type of reward expected.

Individuals usually form choices based on whether they believe that the expected results of a specific behavior will correspond with or eventually lead to their desired results. This process begins in childhood and continues entirely throughout a person’s life.

The expectancy theory of motivation suggests that people are motivated to engage in certain behaviors based on their beliefs about whether those behaviors will lead to desired outcomes. For example, an employee may work longer hours or on weekends if they believe it will ultimately result in a future raise.

Expectancy theory has three key factors: expectancy, instrumentality, and valence. Let’s take a deeper look into each of these below.

The Three Key Factors of Motivations Expectancy Theory

1.      Expectancy

Expectancy is the belief that if you work hard (your effort) you will be able to hit the targets (your performance) that have been set for you. This is the rate at which you expect to be rewarded for your effort.

You make this judgment based on a number of factors, including:

  • The past experiences you have had.
  • Your confidence in your ability.
  • The difficulty level you perceive the target is to achieve
  • Whether or not the target is under your control.

An example of expectancy is thinking, “If I work hard, I can reach the targets my boss has set for me”.

Some of the most common factors associated with your level of expectancy include:


Your Motivation level can be affected by your belief that you have the necessary skills and abilities to perform the task. Meaning, you think you are good enough, or that you are not.

Goal difficulty:

Your expectation of the outcome is influenced by the level of difficulty of the goal or task. So, you believe that it is within your reach or it is not.


Your efforts can be influenced by the amount of control you believe you have over your task performance. This means you believe you are in control or that you are not.

Related: Goal Setting and Accomplishment Mini-Course

2.      Instrumentality

In this factor, you’re assessing how likely you are to receive a reward if you hit the targets that have been set for you.

Again, you make this judgment based on a number of facets, including:

  • Is the relationship clear between performance and reward (outcome)?
  • How much do you trust the person who is deciding the reward?
  • How transparent is the decision-making process around who gets what reward?

An example of instrumentality is thinking, “If I accomplish all of the targets set for me, then I am sure I will get the promotion?”

3.      Valence

So far, we have a goal to reach, and we understand what we’ll be rewarded if we hit it. The last key factor is valence. Valence is simply the perceived value of the reward to you personally.

Keep in mind the value could be negative if you actively want to avoid the reward. It could simply be zero if you are unmotivated by the reward. Or positive if you’re motivated by the reward.

For valency, each of us must weigh up the pros and cons. For example, “Do I want a promotion at work? Will the extra hours result in less time with my family? Is it really worth putting in such serious effort for a whole year to receive a promotion with a 10% pay rise?”

How to Implement the Expectancy Theory of Motivation with Others

  • Make sure your promises align with the organizational vision
  • Create challenging and achievable goals
  • Assign tasks to match the member’s skill set
  • Set clear connections between performance and reward
  • Make reward distribution fair and logical

Examples of Expectancy Theory in the Workplace

A worker who is paid $10 per hour and required to produce one widget per hour will work harder if they believe that producing two widgets per hour will result in a raise to $15 per hour.

An Employee who is paid $10 per hour and required to produce 100 widgets per hour will likely work harder if they are told that they will receive a bonus of $5 for every 100 widgets they produce

A worker who is paid $10 per hour and required to produce 100 widgets per hour will likely work harder if they are told that they will receive a $1 raise for every 10 widgets they produce over the 100 per hour.

A team member who is expecting a raise may work harder than a worker who is not expecting a raise.

Advantages and Disadvantages of the Expectancy Theory of Motivation

The expectancy theory of motivation has both advantages and disadvantages. On the plus side, the theory is based on observable behavior and can be tested. It also considers individual differences in terms of ability and motivation. On the downside, the theory does not explain why some people are more motivated than others, and it does not always accurately predict behavior.

This theory is not the end-all-be-all for learning to use motivation, but it is a wonderful place to start especially if you are having difficulty motivating others in your care or employment. Now, if you are interested in learning about the master key to motivation that will allow you to motivate anyone anytime, including yourself, click and read this article: The Motivation Master Key.


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Aaron Jarrels

I am focused on helping anyone who wants to expand their reach. I help people overcome their limiting beliefs and show them how to gain the confidence to eliminate imposter syndrome that hinders success. I specialize in assisting people with shifting their mindsets and help them master the skills necessary to achieve professional and personal success.