Organizational Behavior in Chipotle: General Analysis and Recommendations

Case Overview

Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc. (Chipotle) is a US-based fast-casual food chain. It was founded by Steve Ells in 1993 and as a brand that primarily values food quality and excellent customer experiences (Qumer and Purkayastha 1). Nowadays, it is Chipotle’s special food culture that the company attributes its success to. Nevertheless, Chipotle’s strong performance is also a result of well-developed employee culture and smart workforce management choices.

The organization is people-oriented and undertakes substantial efforts to create a positive work atmosphere where everyone would feel supported. Besides, the management has established a unique staff development system, as part of which it grants rewards to top performers and prepares them for future leadership roles. Chipotle also provides its employees with good opportunities to attain high income based on the quality of their performance, whereas the list of non-monetary benefits offered by the enterprise includes various wellness programs and technological support for managers (Qumer and Purkayastha 7).

Chipotle considers that such a people-oriented culture is the main factor that allowed it to lower the level of staff turnover and training costs and to increase workers’ motivation, loyalty, and productivity.

Identified Problem

Nevertheless, not all of Chipotle’s employees feel as happy about their workplace as the company’s management claims. Team members in some Chipotle locations complained about the excessively stressful and fast-paced work environment, poor work-life balance, unpaid overtime work, and even unbearable physical workplace conditions (Qumer and Purkayastha 8). Employees’ critical reviews of Chipotle’s culture and overall environment are of significant concern. While the company aspires to grow in the future, the incidence of such negative employee experiences may only increase, whereas the preservation of Chipotle’s unique and positive culture may become more difficult.

Analysis Purposes and Goals

Considering the abovementioned problem that the restaurant chain is now facing, the present report will analyze the significance of employee motivation, discuss various means that can be utilized to make workers more satisfied with their jobs, and evaluate the value and effectiveness of employee motivation methods that Chipotle currently implements. By using the company’s example, the paper will aim to identify how the satisfaction of various employee needs translates into a greater level of their motivation and more positive organizational behaviors. Besides, it will investigate the degree to which various organizational factors can motivate individuals to be engaged in and productive at work. To guide the analysis, the concepts from Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and Herzberg’s Two-factor Theory will be employed.

Employee Motivation: Theoretical Background

Motivation is a complex subject, yet in simple words, it may be defined as a force that drives individuals to attain certain objectives and goals. As such, each person’s motivation depends on individual characteristics and personality traits. Still, many theories and models have been developed to explain this phenomenon and characterize factors that either increase or decrease the level of one’s will to act and commit to certain activities.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is probably the most well-known of all existing motivation theories. Its underlying proposition is that “people always tend to want something and what they want depends on what they already have” (Haque et al. 63). In accordance with this idea, Maslow distinguished five different levels of human needs: physiological, safety, social, esteem and self-actualization (Haque et al. 63). Physiological needs are the fundamental needs that every person has, including food, shelter, and clothing (Haque et al. 63). If one cannot satisfy them, his/her very existence may be under threat. Therefore, in the circumstances when food and other essential things are not available, people usually do not think of attaining something greater and tend to be concerned only with finding ways to stop feeling hunger, thirst, cold, and so forth.

When the first-level needs are fulfilled, a person moves higher in the hierarchy. The second level, safety, refers to the feeling of security in one’s family, community, and society as a whole; protection against violence; job security; financial stability; and access to such essential services as education and medicine (Haque et al. 63). After that, there are more advanced needs for belonging and love, which imply opportunities to establish meaningful, trustful, and intimate relationships with others (Haque et al. 63).

The fourth-level need, esteem, indicates that every individual whose lower-ranking needs are satisfied aspires for self-respect and recognition based on their achievements (Haque et al. 63). As noted by Haque et al., the inability to fulfill these needs inevitably translates into a sense of inferiority, helplessness, and psychological weakness (63). Lastly, self-actualization that is placed by Maslow at the top of the hierarchy means absolute self-fulfillment and realization of one’s potentials to the fullest (Haque et al. 63). At this final step, a person lives consistently with his/her interests, inherent inclinations, and passions and becomes proficient in doing so.

The core idea of Maslow’s Needs Theory suggests that to attain the ultimate degree of self-satisfaction, one must meet all lower-ranking needs first. However, Maslow noted that an “individual can be partly satisfied with one level and still seek for satisfaction at the next” (Haque et al. 64). This remark implies that factors defining motivation can substantially vary from one individual to another, which is important for managers to consider when they apply this theory in practice.

However, the most essential thing to understand is that dissatisfaction with something always creates a feeling of restlessness and psychological/physical discomfort, which one naturally wants to get rid of and which motivates him/her to act accordingly. Organizational managers can exploit this sense of dissatisfaction in their subordinates to make them adopt behaviors aimed to benefit the enterprise by providing them with a chance to meet different-level needs.

Along with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, it may be useful for managers and leaders to get familiar with Herzberg’s Two-factor Theory as well since it expands the understanding of employee motivation. Herzberg’s ideas differ from Maslow’s suggestion that factors contributing to job satisfaction are “the opposite of those… that cause job dissatisfaction” (Haque et al. 64). The former theorist concluded that factors making people happy mainly comprise the qualities of activities in which they are involved and the way they are involved in them, whereas the way individuals are treated determines their unhappiness (Haque et al. 64). Based on this, Herzberg distinguished two disparate types of factors: intrinsic or motivators and extrinsic or hygiene factors.

The first group consists of achievement, recognition, work itself, responsibility, and opportunities for further growth, while the second one includes organizational structure, culture, policies, overall work conditions, work-life balance, remuneration, and similar company-related attributes (Haque et al. 64-65). The theorist stated that manipulations with hygienic factors cannot motivate employees but may only be utilized to prevent dissatisfaction (Haque et al. 64).

However, in case extrinsic factors are unsatisfying, there is no way for the company to promote employee motivation (Haque et al. 64). Thus, only motivators, intrinsic feelings and aspirations of employees, can be targeted by managers to foster greater worker engagement and productivity. Nevertheless, before developing a proper motivation system, organizations should arrange their internal environments in a way that makes subordinates feel content and secure. It is valid to say that the combination of concepts outlined in both Herzberg’s theory and Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs can help effectively evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of Chipotle’s culture in terms of its ability to motivate employees and explain what has gone wrong in the company and what should be avoided in the future.

Case Analysis

It seems that the attributes of the restaurant’s existing employee culture and motivation system, as they are intended and seen by the company’s managers, allow workers to meet their different-level needs, starting from the basic ones and ending with self-actualization. Firstly, compared to other fast-food restaurants, salaries of staff members in Chipotle across all organizational levels are above the industry average. The reported minimum mean wage of a Chipotle employee is USD 21,000 and the maximum mean wage is USD 106,000 (Qumer and Purkayastha 5). Clearly, even the lowest of the identified sums is sufficient to satisfy one’s basic physiological needs, while higher wages also promote a greater sense of security since generously rewarded professionals’ access to healthcare, housing, and other essential sources and services that grant a feeling of protection is facilitated.

It is also valid to say that Chipotle’s culture and environment allow employed individuals to meet their love and belonging needs. For example, as part of the Restaurateur program aimed to empower and promote Chipotle’s best employees, team members are supposed to closely collaborate with and mentor their colleagues (Qumer and Purkayastha 7). As noted by Eller et al., mentorship implies not only the sharing of knowledge but also the development of caring relationships, as well as open, respectful, and trustful communication (815).

It means that Chipotle’s employees have a chance to feel appreciated at their workplace not merely as professionals but as persons as well. In addition, Qumer and Purkayastha stated that Chipotle always strives to hire people with a passion for food and customer service and pay a lot of attention towards the suitability of candidates’ traits to the restaurant’s mission, vision, and values (5). Providing this recruitment practice works as intended, teams in Chipotle are comprised of like-minded and compatible individuals in terms of their personalities, which means they may develop a strong sense of belonging to both their co-workers and the organization as a whole.

As per Herzberg’s theory, the abovementioned environmental factors belong to the group of hygienic factors and, therefore, are used by Chipotle as a tool to promote job satisfaction. For instance, it is observed that in companies characterized by negative work relationships and a high rate of conflicts, subordinates face an increased risk of mental problems and, as a result, their motivation and performance suffer (Abun et al. 75279). Additionally, the study by Mabaso and Dlamini revealed that the level of pay is positively correlated with the level of employee satisfaction and affect such outcomes as interest in work, professional development, motivation, overall performance, and staff turnover (81).

These research findings explain why those Chipotle’s employees who exercised the opportunity to increase their income tended to be loyal to the company and strived to excel at doing their job. At the same time, this evidence also clarifies why some Chipotle employees who felt underpaid for their work were extremely dissatisfied with their job and were not committed to the organization.

It is appropriate to note here that other complains of Chipotle employees, such as poor work-life balance and excessively stressful work conditions, have a negative impact of subordinates’ mental health as well and instill a sense of psychological insecurity, which inevitably translates in reduced morale and productivity (Brooks). As it was previously identified in Maslow’s Hierarchy, the need for security is one of the basic human interests. When a person fails to meet it in one situation or workplace, he/she eventually attempts to change this workplace and substitute it with a more satisfying option.

In the adverse circumstances like these, employees’ inherent drive to fulfill their basic needs worked against Chipotle. While the company claims to support its workers and provide them with multiple opportunities for development, in this particular case, it has overlooked the fact that lower-ranking interests must also be taken into account in corporate endeavors aimed to stimulate employee motivation. The analysis of complains regarding unfavorable work conditions at Chipotle also verifies the main proposition of Herzberg’s theory: in dissatisfying environments, it is impossible to motivate employees to perform well and ensure their commitment.

Nevertheless, the latter theory also suggests that the contribution of such extrinsic factors as remuneration and work climate to one’s motivation is only partial, and to understand what drives employee behaviors, it is essential to look at intrinsic motivators more closely.

Such intrinsic motivation factors as recognition, achievement, and type of work (its attractiveness to an individual) match higher-ranking needs for esteem and self-actualization in Maslow’s Hierarchy. The application of these constructs to Chipotle’s employee motivation system makes it clear that the company’s Restaurateur program, an internal employee promotion system, targets them directly. This program connects specific performance measures, including quality and productivity, to particular professional development and growth opportunities.

For instance, to move up the career ladder, employees should not only advance their cooking and hospitality skills but also develop mentorship and leadership qualities over time (Qumer and Purkayastha 7). With the advancement of each of these abilities throughout different program phases, a worker gains more chances for receiving greater monetary and non-monetary benefits and upgrade his/her professional status. It means that Chipotle aligns individuals’ needs for prestige and feeling of accomplishment with its own strategic objectives and goals.

However, it is valid to presume that this employee development program can work well merely when individuals have keen interest to grow in the field of management and the food industry as such or for those who merely seek financial welfare. When a person has a passion for any activity, it takes a substantial part of his/her identity, and he/she becomes willing to spend more time and undertake more efforts to succeed in the field of personal interest (Spehar et al. 17).

A natural inclination towards certain spheres of performance may thus be regarded as one of the core prerequisites of long-term motivation and job retention. Noteworthily, Chipotle claims that it hires only those who are truly interested in food and customer service and fires those who do not have a passion for their work (Qumer and Purkayastha 5). Still, it is doubtful that such a high recruitment standard is maintained throughout the company’s multiple locations. Besides, it can be argued that the number of participants eligible for the Restaurateur program is rather limited. Thus, the firm’s professional development program does not benefit all of its workers equally.


All in all, the analysis revealed that Chipotle has a well-established employee culture. It is clear that the firm undertakes significant efforts to foster better motivation among workers. Nevertheless, to improve further, reduce HR costs, maximize economic growth, and prevent any adverse incidents during expansion, the restaurant’s management should necessarily address all complaints voiced by its former and current employees.

Firstly, salaries should be not only competitive and performance-based but also fair. When subordinates are properly compensated for their extra efforts, they develop more trust towards employers and feel that their interests are not in conflict with the organizational ones, which increases both job satisfaction and motivation (Falk 2). Secondly, it is pivotal to ensure that workplace environments are secure in many other regards, especially in terms of exposure to stress and work-life balance. Therefore, Chipotle must explore the ways to reduce workloads and diversify tasks to ensure that employees neither sacrifice their personal interests and time nor feel bored and incompetent at work.

The latter two factors are particularly important since not every person hired by Chipotle will have a true interest in the food industry (which the company is recommended to acknowledge as well). Therefore, the management should design and implement an alternative employee motivation program aimed to develop and recognize the efforts of those who may not be otherwise eligible for becoming restaurateurs. Based on the reviewed motivational theories, it is valid to say that the possible ways to do so is through making the workplace as satisfying as possible, providing workers with more meaningful responsibilities and greater autonomy, engaging them in more diverse activities, and fostering their advancement to non-managerial roles.


Employees are among the most important assets of any company and, therefore, leaders need to undertake all possible efforts to arrange their work conditions well and make workers satisfied with their jobs. Safe and supportive organizational environment, monetary and non-monetary benefits and rewards, recognition, fair salary, opportunities for professional and personal growth, training, and other similar initiatives can be used to promote job satisfaction among employees. Nevertheless, all these workforce management endeavors are not for the sake of staff members’ happiness alone; they also serve to assist companies in the achievement of their strategic gains.

As the analysis of Chipotle’s employee culture demonstrates, unsatisfied employees usually produce unsatisfactory results, whereas satisfied teams tend to be more motivated and show positive organizational behaviors. It means that to improve organizational performance, it is pivotal to address the issue of employee satisfaction, make sure that lower-ranking needs of workers are sufficiently met, and there are enough opportunities for everyone to be recognized for their efforts and realize their potentials.

Works Cited

Abun, Damianus, et al. “Measuring Workplace Relationship and Job Satisfaction of Divine Word Colleges’ Employees in Ilocos Region, Philippines.” International Journal of Current Research, vol. 10, no. 1, pp. 75279-75286.

Brooks, Ross. “Why Psychological Safety Is the Key to High Performing Teams”. Peakon. 2018. Web.

Eller, Lucille Sanzero et al. “Key Components of an Effective Mentoring Relationship: A Qualitative Study.” Nurse Education Today, vol. 34, no. 5, 2014, pp. 815-820.

Falk, Armin. “Fairness and Motivation: Fair Treatment Creates Incentives, and is Beneficial for Workers and the Firm.” IZA World of Labor, no. 9, 2014, pp. 1-10.

Haque, Mohammad Faizul, et al. “Motivational Theories – A Critical Analysis.” ASA University Review, vol. 8, no. 1, 2014, pp. 61-68.

Mabaso, Calvin Mzwenhlanhla, and Bongani Innocent Dlamini. “Impact of Compensation and Benefits on Job Satisfaction.” Research Journal of Business Management, vol. 11, no. 2, 2017, pp. 80-90.

Qumer, Syeda, and Debapratim Purkayastha. Career Development and Employee Motivation Initiatives at Chipotle. INS Center for Management Research. 2015.

Spehar, Ivan, et al. “Passion for Work, Job Satisfaction, and the Mediating Role of Belongingness.” Scandinavian Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 2016, pp. 17-26.

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