Emirates Airline and Employee Motivation Theories


Employees are inspired by a set of factors that can exist extrinsically or intrinsically in themselves or their organizations. Performance in an organization depends on the product of motivation, ability, and environment of employees. Thus, motivation plays a major role in performance and is relevant for realizing goal-oriented behavior. There are need-based theories of motivation that are most concerned with the needs of individuals.

The theories demonstrate a goal-driven behavior by people with the aim of satisfying needs. The relevant theories in this category are as follows. The first one is the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. The second one is the Herzberg’s two-factor theory. The third notable one is the McClelland’s acquired needs theory. All these theories are named after the main theorist supporting the theory and the basic concept of the theory. An additional theory that does not follow the naming style under this category is the ERG theory. The other category of theories is processed-based. In this case, motivation is seen as something more than an action aiming to placate a need.

The process of motivation is considered to be rational. In this case, individuals analyze their environment. After that, they develop thoughts and feelings. Consequently, they react in particular ways. Some examples of the process theories include the equity theory, the expectancy theory, and the reinforcement theory. In addition to need-based theories, managers can also base their motivation actions on process-based theories.

These theories help to describe the way employees evaluate the fairness of reward distributions. The theories also show the way employees react to reinforcements of negative or positive behavior. This paper will review the theories in each category and then apply the knowledge of motivation to the Emirates Airline. The paper will use data from employees and managers at the company regarding the key concepts of motivation and organizational behavior at the company.

Literature review – theories, theorists, models, principles, theoretical foundations

Abraham Maslow was prominent in the twentieth century, as he developed the simple theory of needs by ranking needs in a hierarchy that showed their urgency of realization for an individual. He noted that some needs were basic and, therefore, universal for humans. As one climbed the hierarchy, the needs began to differ in importance and only came when the basic needs were met. The basic needs are as described in the following paragraph.

Psychological types of needs refer to food, water, and other simple needs. These needs often serve biological functions of survival. It is impossible to survive well without the psychological needs. The behavior of a person might be directed at fulfilling these needs as the motivator. When the basic needs are fulfilled, they no longer act as motivators for behavior. After achieving psychological needs, people move on to search for safety needs, before advancing further to look for social needs.

The same principle applies, where a person is motivated by a higher need in the hierarchy only after exhausting the motivation utility of another need that is lower in the hierarchy. People exhibit a need so that they belong and bond with other humans (Udechukwu, 2009). Humans want to feel loved. As a result, they will seek lasting attachments. These needs are lumped up as social needs, which can serve as motivating factors for human behavior. Thus, an organization’s management can offer social needs to direct goal-oriented behavior. Besides, people embrace a search for fulfillment of esteem needs after they are done with the fulfillment of social needs.

When a person ends up getting all esteem needs, he or she moves on to feel appreciated and creates room for seeking more expression. After that, motivation moves on to the self-actualization stage, where the person becomes all that they can be. This shows up through a desire for acquiring new skills or being challenged with new circumstances and ideas, as long as they lead to personal life goals.

The Maslow hierarchy of needs theory has been applied in business settings, especially by looking at how an organization can satisfy a person’s different needs. Some needs are satisfied by a paycheck while others are satisfied with appropriate job placement. Other needs are satisfied through recognition at work when someone is praised for accomplishments. Self-actualization needs are often satisfied by having opportunities on and off the job for development and growth. The opportunities are interesting and challenging to employees who have excelled beyond other needs.

The two-factor theory of Fredrick Herzberg appeared to solve the motivation issue differently compared to the other two theories reviewed above. The theory concluded that the work environment is capable of satisfying employment, but the factors doing that are very different from those that cause employee dissatisfaction in the same organization. The factors can be put into two categories. One is the hygienic aspect category while the other one is the motivating aspects category.

Overall, motivation includes a combination of the two categories of factors. Hygienic aspects encompass several things implemented formally in organizations. For example, the aspects can include company policies, supervision and relationships, working conditions, salary, and security at work. Meanwhile, motivating factors vary with leadership and management style. The typical factors are achievement, recognition, interesting work, increased responsibility, and advancement, as well as growth. The theory is criticized on the grounds that methodology of coming up with hygiene motivators is not comprehensive, given the dynamics of people’s classification of satisfaction.

For example, payment for an employee is a hygiene factor, but when the same pay is reviewed, it can be seen to serve as a symbolic value that would qualify as a motivator. Nevertheless, the theory is still useful to organizations that are seeking to improve the job environment because it points them to the issues that they have to correct or change to promote motivation (Kouloubandi, Jofreh, & Mahdavi, 2012).

The acquired needs theory by David McClelland is the most popular because of its relevance to many business situations. The needs, according to this theory, are for three main things. Individuals express these things as achievement, affiliation, and power. Here, every individual considers all the three needs in different proportions when behaving in a given way. The theory uses a unique method identified as the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT), which assess the main need expressed by an individual among the three options available (Latham & Piccolo, 2012).

The method is usually used in a research setting. In this case, subjects are presented with an ambiguous picture, which they describe in the form of a story. The essence of the exercise is to elicit the way the mind works and present the things that motivate the person. People with a strong need for achievement show or tell stories related to a need for being successful. Thus, by knowing the main needs of a person, the organization can place the person in job roles that drive their motivation.

For example, expressing performance needs and achievement motivations are best suited to job roles that offer explicit goals. In such cases, people can get immediate feedback about performance. Achievement oriented people will also do well as entrepreneurs, scientist, and engineers, where they work directly with the management and examination of other factors to realize immediate feedback about their performance.

The stories developed as part of the exercise can also show a high need for affiliation, where a person needs to be liked and accepted by others and would take up the choice of interacting with others to develop a friendship. In leadership positions, this need can overwhelm individuals as they may poorly handle critical feedback or may be unable to disciple poor performance when they are managers. The final element that can be identified from the TAT exercise is the high need for power. Here, the person shows a high need to influence others. The individual would also want to control their environment as a way of determining the products of their conduct (Shultz, 2014).

Such needs manifest more altruistic forms. For example, a need can be about changing the way things are done in an organization. It can also be about negotiating additional resources for a person’s department. This would be done to comply with an important trait for managerial and leadership duties. The theory sees power as a great motivator, which can be harnessed for the good of the organization.

The equity theory shows that employees’ behavior is motivated by what they see as fair or unfair treatment at work. The theory sees the process of employment and work performance as a social exchange. Employees notice disproportion in the social exchange and lose motivation. On the other hand, where there is a sense of fairness, the employees remain motivated to continue working (Hayibor, 2012). Thus, fairness becomes a major factor in this theory, which is determined by the way people make social comparisons, especially regarding the input-to-outcome ratio of the individual and the comparison person. Individual contributions to the organization are considered as the inputs.

The contributions can be classified as loyalty, hard work, and the amount of time spent in the organization (Hayibor, 2012). Many inputs, such as the level of education or the skills and training that an employee brings to the organization are relevant in this case. On the other hand, the outcomes include the wages, the acknowledgment by the management, preferential treatment, and additional compensation. A reference is a specific person or a category of people that an individual will use to determine where the balance of inputs and outputs is fair. The references must be comparable for the comparison to be useful. This is an important element to be used when applying the theory to motivation.

When people deem a situation as unfair, they justify the situation by downplaying their input, or they value their outcomes more highly, in addition to distorting the other person’s outcomes to obtain a sense of fairness. In other cases, the referent would have to increase inputs so that what they get from the situation is seen as fair (Shultz, 2014). Nevertheless, the important outcome of the perceived inequity is that inputs will be reduced to create a new balance that is seen as fair. Thus, organizations must be open to their roles in influencing the reduction of the input of employees and address their concerns to recover the reduce inputs.

When left unchecked, inequity can lead to employee turnover or legal action against the employer. When there is an overpayment, equity does not lead to guilt for the overcompensated employees, as the theory would suggest.

Besides, there are individual differences that arise with reactions to inequity. It is possible to show that some people have an inherent need to maintain equitable relationships with others by looking at equity sensitivity as a personality trait. When people are unable to get equity, they feel distressed, irrespective of the direction of inequity. Some people may exhibit characteristics of benevolence, which correspond with wanting to have much in return for their input. Other people can be classified as entitled because they expect to have substantial compensation, even as they deliver very little in return. An organization can only address the concerns of equity-sensitive individuals (Hayibor, 2012).

The expectancy theory shows that an individual’s motivation to increase or reduce efforts depends on rational calculation, where the individuals evaluate their situation and then ask themselves three key questions (Isaac, Zerbe, & Pitt, 2001). The questions are related to whether the individual efforts lead to high performance, whether the performance leads to outcomes, and whether the person desires the outcomes. The first question corresponds to expectancy, the second question corresponds to instrumentality, while the third question covers valence as the value of rewards. The theory has been well accepted. In fact, it has been the subject of many studies because it is simple and intuitive (Bassous, 2011).

When a person answers the three questions affirmatively, then the likelihood of being motivated to do something increases (Bassous, 2011). Employees in an organization may not believe that their efforts are contributing to the high performance of their organization, and they may express or hold many reasons for such beliefs. Some of the reasons could include lack of skills and knowledge. An organization, in this case, will have to consider training and hiring qualified people to specific job positions that require those skills. When the work environment is the hindrance, the management should clear the path for performance.

To influence instrumentality perceptions, the management can publicize any contests or award programs so that employees see that performance and not something else will be rewarded by the organization and the need for working within the meritocratic system. Organizations face a risk of the value of instrumentality to highest executing employees being eroded when rewards are not considered as fair.

When rewards are attractive, the employees will be more motivated to commit to the organization. This process of motivating employees arises when managers find the things that are valued by employees. The process persists when managers seek to offer fair and satisfying rewards to the employees upon the performance of duties in a specific way. They may also offer a range of rewards so that employees have a choice to pick the most valuable one.

The reinforcement theory considers behavioral conditions and sees behavior as the function of outcomes, such that an individual’s actions become reinforced to lead to new behavior when they are recognized as positive.

Failure to recognize or recognition in a negative way leads to less likelihood of demonstrating similar conduct in the future (Kouloubandi et al., 2012). The theory is mainly about the common sense of reinforcement, but it has been ignored many times in an organization, especially in situations where managers would benefit more from employee initiatives. Reinforcements can be positive. Positive reinforcement occurs when positive behavior is followed by positive consequences, while negative reinforcement arises when positive conduct is followed by removal or negative consequences, such as a manager stopping nagging the employee.

In addition, reinforcement can be a punishment, where negative behavior is followed by negative consequences, as a demotion of the employee (Malik, Butt, & Choi, 2015). Lastly, reinforcement may be in the form of extinctions. In such a case, negative behavior is followed by removal of positive consequence. An example is a manager not recognizing the behavior of the employees. Positive reinforcement helps to increase looked-for behavior while negative reinforcement helps to increase the anticipated behavior. The management can reduce the frequency of negative behavior by applying extinction, while punishment works well to reduce the frequency of the behaviors not wanted in an organization (Malik et al., 2015).

Summary of Literature Review

Overall, needs-based theories explain how an individual’s efforts to meet their needs are their motivator. The job of the management is to note the people’s need and then come up with ways of meeting these needs. The major theories provide several categories of needs that can be examined and attached to particular employee behavior.

The acquired needs theory is useful in various ways. For example, people who possess stable and overriding motives for achievement, attaining power, and connecting with others respectively are supposed to get environments of work that allow them to pursue their dominant needs. All the theories have demonstrated the characteristics of work environments that serve well as motivators for appropriate organizational behavior. The remaining work is to link the environment and the motivators so that employees find it easy to behave the way they want, while also contributing to the attainment of organizational goals.

Analysis and Discussion

In this part of the report, the case of the Emirates Airlines is discussed with the relevant motivational theory’s main concepts. The Emirates Airline has to consider whether castigation is the most effective way of modifying the behavior of its employees. In addition, it must ensure that when punishing, the punishment offered fits the wrong done. An important feature that shows up in the Emirates Airline case is that the company treats employees in a consistent way through well-established disciplinary procedures.

The airline applies the motivation and disciplinary measures fairly across the organization. Thus, the company does not appear as unfair. Employees report that they perceive actions of the management regarding reinforcement of behavior as being fair and relevant to the objectives of the organization. These actions relate to the compensation policy of the organization and its awarding of working hours and other privileges for different kinds of work.

Motivation problems at the Emirates can be due to lack of communication between managers and employees. Although there is excellent direct communication through official emails and internal company memos, as well as official announcements to individual employees, there is very limited tacit communication. Many of the surveyed management staffs say that they are focused on ensuring that they conform to the company policy. Unfortunately, there are no codes of communication to govern tacit channels. Therefore, there is a perceived gap between the management and the subordinate employees.

The Emirates Airline is a big company that has considerably high levels of employee turnover in middle level and a lower position. This is expected for many large companies with operations in various countries. However, failure to address this trend as reported by interviewees could lead to further difficulties in establishing a particular characteristic of organizational behavior that would promote the realization of profits for the airline.

When employees choose to leave an organization, it shows that they could be frustrated by the working environment. Thus, leaving serves as their way of balancing their equality perception when they see that staying would promote existing inequality in their input and output. The Emirates Airline is known to offer competitive rates for its employees across all levels of work. However, the continued existence of employee turnover is an indication that there are needs beyond compensation that affect employee behavior. Some of the potential problems highlighted include the perception of injustice and too much pressure for performance, which comes from middle-level managers.

If these factors are the main issues affecting employee motivation, then the management has to consider the assumptions presented by motivation theories in regards to the correction of these problems. For example, with the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, beyond compensation, employees are also striving for esteem needs. Besides, the reinforcement theory would apply in this case to show that the management’s behavior is failing to reinforce good behavior by promoting the expression of bad behavior. When the management is not recognizing employee demonstration of good behavior, such as being committed to work and handling customer care and employee relationships well, then the management would be implying that it does not have a high concern for these issues. In return, employees would show less concern for the issues too. Eventually, the problem becomes major and affects the organization’s behavior.

The Emirates Airline is a reputable airline globally. As a result, it receives many applications for the job by potential employees from around the world. Unfortunately, the high number of applications has also caused laxity on management to be very strict with its motivation policies. The ease of employee replacement serves as a disincentive for management to consider existing employee concerns more seriously as it should, especially for very easy to replace positions like airport staff, technicians, and cabin crew.

However, with continuous training of staff using its various employee development program, the Emirates Airline has also been able to maintain a positive organizational behavior overall. Nevertheless, having things under control is not supposed to be an indicator of complacency in the management. It should serve as a warning for things that can go wrong when the control of employee behavior is no longer possible. Therefore, in addition to using codes of conduct and other human resource management policies, there is a need to look into the employee motivation issues more critically.

Most employees are satisfied with their jobs because they get what they perceive as a fair salary. They are also content with the nature of the jobs they do, including pilots and cabin crew because it is the job that they are qualified. Trouble arises when the issues of satisfaction move beyond ordinary job performance and compensation. Employee relations concerning the way the management handles employee grievances and expressions are the issues that sound an alarm on the Emirates Airline organizational behavior (Malik et al., 2015).

In comparison with some companies in the industry, the Emirates Airline may appear as less satisfying to work for because it does not offer retirement plans for its employees. Therefore, after fulfilling most of the achievement needs concerning job performance, many employees may find themselves at odds with continued working in the airline because they risk having their recognition concerns ignored (Latham & Piccolo, 2012).

The Emirates Airline has made positive moves in some of its employee programs that have led to the desired organization behavior for growth for both individuals and the organization. The Emirates’ rise to a globally recognized position as a legacy airline is due to effective management and leadership. Part of that involved the presentation of attractive packages for employee compensation. Another part involved offering existing opportunities for work and work-related expressions and opportunities that employees at the company were looking for. For example, the inclusion of employees in the company’s corporate social responsibility programs serves as an avenue for the management’s recognition of employee performance and good behavior. It also serves as an employee development program, where employees move beyond satisfying their basic needs.

The Emirates delivers this through the establishment of hygienic conditions and motivation conditions alike. Respondents noted that salaries, interesting work, and increased responsibility, together with opportunities for advancement were the main issues that were keeping them in the company. These issues would be prominent when the employees would be making deliberations on joining other companies in similar job roles.

Conclusion and Recommendations

The application of motivation and organization behavior theories to the Emirates Airline case shows that the company’s management is doing several things to keep employee motivation high. At the same time, the company has neglected important considerations for appropriate employee behavior. Therefore, the company suffers the consequences in the form of high employee turnover. As the Emirates adjusts to competitive forces in its market, it also develops employee-training programs that help to equip its employees with skills for actualizing their needs. Thus, many of them are interpreting the provision for the job advancement opportunities as reinforcements for good behavior, which is working well for the airline’s overall organization behavior.

The overall verdict is that the management at the Emirates has done a good job of ensuring there is motivation to work. The management combines reinforcements and punishment, but there is room to do more, especially by listening to the intricate features of individual employee motivation. In regards to induvial employee concerns, the Emirates airline’s management has done a poor job of motivating employees.


The Management needs to realize that a diverse workforce presents unique demands for motivation at an individual level. The best way to capture these needs would be by taking feedback for management action to know whether it reinforces or discourages particular employee behavior. As needs become complex, their expression also changes such that conventional compensation and employee motivation packages may not always work.

For example, having interesting jobs and lucrative compensation, as well as flexible working hours for some categories of employees is enough to cater for basic needs. However, there are differences in employee motivation orientations that the management needs to capture (Latham & Piccolo, 2012). For example, some employees are driven by an achievement ambition, and it is the work of management to realize whether they are appropriately placed within the organization to take advantage of their motivation orientations to realize the goals of the Emirates Airline.

The management should also consider carrot strategies as more effective than stick strategies (Cadwallader, Jarvis, Bitner, & Ostrom, 2010). Here, the focus should be on offering praises whenever it is appropriate, instead of criticizing employees when they do something bad. This policy should be implemented at the line manager level so that employees become freer with the management and offer their feedback concerning what is working to improve organizational behavior.

The Emirates Airlines has demonstrated that it goes beyond pay and rewards to influence organizational behavior. It would be useful for the organization to come up with an audit of behaviors. The audit should help to show the things that need to be modified to motivate the workers. The management should go ahead and implement incentives, financial or social, to foster employee motivation.

The company can also set up systems of work, such that there are negative consequences understood by all managers and employees, which should follow negative behavior. The company should remove the positive consequences that follow negative behavior when implementing this intervention. Another recommendation is for the Emirates’ management to embark on periodic measurement of the behavior attained by modifying management practices towards individual employee concerns for motivation (Zaman, Nas, Ahmed, Raja, & Marri, 2013). The company should also maintain its performance for all positive outcomes so that they grow to become part of the organization.


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Questionnaire for management

  1. What do you have to say about performance appraisal procedures at Emirates Airline?
  2. Do you think they are an important part of the company?
  3. What is the official company policy about employee feedback?
  4. According to you, why do you think employees are not interested in behaving as expected in the company?
  5. Are you motivated to check on the motivation levels of subordinate staff?
  6. Other than official job requirement, do you go out of your way to check motivation and actually motivate employees?
  7. What are your perceived employee needs at the company?
  8. How has the company met employee needs?
  9. Is the company doing enough to meet employee needs?
  10. What are the processes used by management to motivate staff?
  11. What are the challenges or consequences of unmotivated staff that the company faces?

Questionnaire for employees

  1. How do you feel about your work and having to deal with the same managers every time you come to work?
  2. Do managers encourage employees to adjust to changing situations?
  3. Does management adjust to unique personal employee needs?
  4. Are the compensation benefits offered by the company adequate for motivation?
  5. Is the job interesting enough to keep you motivated?
  6. Are your career goals aligned with the job that you are doing?
  7. What are some of the consequences that you see among unmotivated staffs?
  8. What is the greatest factor leading to staff dissatisfaction with their job?
  9. How can management improve its practices to improve staff motivation?
  10. How would you rate the level of commitment to communication that management shows? Use very bad, bad, neutral, good, very good.
  11. Does the company support honest two-way communication between managers and employees?
  12. Do you think your job input and outcomes are fair?