Expectancy theory

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Expectancy theory
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Expectancy theory is a term referring to specific area of motivation theory, that focuses on how employee’s expectations regarding their ability to execute tasks and achieve desired rewards can affect their work motivation and organizational behavior [1]. It is seen as part of the contemporary theories on motivation [2]. In general, expectancy theory states that motivation is dependent on three different beliefs an employee can hold [3]:

  • Expectancy (E)
  • Instrumentality (I)
  • Valence (V)

Thus, motivation according to expectancy theory can be described as:

Motivation = E x I x V

While different expectancy theories exist, the first theory focusing on work motivation in particular has been developed by Victor Vroom in 1964 [4]. Another model of high importance has for instance been published by Porter and Lawler in 1968 [5].

Expectancy factors

According to expectancy theory, an employee’s motivation is the outcome of the following three factors. It is important for managers to pay attention to each factor, since a theoretical score of zero for one of the factors would lead to an overall score of zero in motivation, as visible in the equation presented above [6].


Expectancy, or also called effort-performance expectancy, describes the degree to which a person believes that putting in effort will result in the expected level of performance [7]. Thus, expectancy consists of an action-outcome interconnection [8]. An employee who believes that an increase in effort for their work will also lead a better performance would therefore have a high effort-performance expectancy [9].


Instrumentality refers to a person’s belief that a good performance will lead to a valid outcome or reward [10]. Therefore, instrumentality can also be called performance-outcome expectancy. Accordingly, a person who delivers a high performance but is not rewarded appropriately will have a rather low perceived instrumentality. Instrumentality describes an outcome-outcome interconnection [11].


Valence describes how valuable a person perceives a possible reward or outcome of their work to be [12]. In general, a positive valence would indicate that an employee would prefer having the outcome to not having it, a negative valence would mean a person would not like to achieve the outcome [13].

Managerial implications of expectancy theory

According to expectancy theory, managers should have knowledge about employees’ needs, make outcomes of their work clear to them and ensure that everyone is able to achieve said outcomes, in order to foster employees' motivation [14]. In other words, managers should try to maximize their employees’ expectancy, instrumentality and valence [15]. Increased expectancy could for example be achieved by training or clarification of goals. Valence could be maximized by aligning rewards with employees’ needs. Clearly communicating the possible outcomes of good work could be a means to increase perceived instrumentality. Additionally, expectancy theory holds implications for the design of motivation systems, such as the importance of recognition of differences in individual employees' needs, abilities and values or a clear linkage between effort, performance and rewards [16].


  1. Rothmann & Cooper 2015, p. 50; Mukherjee & Kumar Basu 2005, p. 120
  2. Rothmann & Cooper 2015, p. 43
  3. Rothmann & Cooper 2015, p. 50
  4. Mukherjee & Kumar Basu 2005, p. 120; Rothmann & Cooper 2015, p. 50
  5. Miner 2005, p. 98
  6. Rothmann & Cooper 2015, p. 51
  7. Rothmann & Cooper 2015, p. 50
  8. Miner 2005, p. 98
  9. Rothmann & Cooper 2015, p. 50
  10. Rothmann & Cooper 2015, p. 50
  11. Miner 2005, p. 98
  12. Rothmann & Cooper 2015, p. 50
  13. Mukherjee & Kumar Basu 2005, p. 97
  14. Mukherjee & Kumar Basu 2005, p. 120
  15. Rothmann & Cooper 2015, p. 51
  16. Mukherjee & Kumar Basu 2005, p. 122


Author: Leonie Pöter