The Equity Theory of motivation suggested that human beings will be motivated to engage in an action or series of action if he or she perceives that the conditions of the situation are fair and just, ultimately benefitting the individual. According to the equity theory, a person will be motivated to work towards a goal if he is she feels that the amount of effort being put forth (input) is equal to the amount of benefit being received upon completion (outcomes.)
The Equity Theory of Motivation is comprised of four widely accepted tenants:
1) People strive to increase their outcomes.
2) Instating a system for regulating equity can help groups of individuals maximize their outcomes as a whole.
3) Inequitable relationships result in distress for both parties in the situation.
4) One who perceives himself or herself as being in an inequitable situation will be motivated to restore its equity.
Examples of commonly contributed inputs include: skill, labor, dedication, time, sacrifice or personal investment.
Examples of commonly received outcomes include: payment, recognition, appreciation, security or other tangible and intangible benefits.
If an individual feels under or over-rewarded in any given relationship he or she will experience anxiety and seek to repair the equity or be rid of the relationship. One way to think about this theory is in terms of “give and take.” If one person is giving 90% in a romantic relationship and the other person is giving 10%, both partners are likely to experience some type of distress over their overly weighted giving or taking. The person who is giving 90% might feel angry that his partner is not putting forth more effort, and the person who is giving 10% might feel guilty for her lack of support. According to the theory, both of these individuals would seek to repair the equity of the relationship.
Another important aspect of the Equity theory of motivation is that an individual will feel that he is being treated equitably if it appears to him that his inputs are equal to the inputs of his peers or co-workers. For example, if the whole office is required to prepare a report on their productivity, everyone may not be happy about the task, but will deem it fair and just. If only one staff member is asked to produce such a report, he may feel a loss of equity in comparison to his co-workers.
The theory was initially pursued by John Stacey Adams, a behavioral psychologist who studied individuals’ behavior in a work environment. He applied the theory to an employee’s motivation to continue working a job: if the employee feels he is getting sufficiently beneficial output for the amount of effort he is inputting, he will be motivated to work the job with the goal of maintaining that homeostasis. This theory works well when applied to an employer-employee relationship because in many ways it is very similar to a romantic relationship. Both parties enter into the relationship expecting to put forth certain efforts and receive certain benefits, with the hope that both parties can remain happy and feel that they are being benefitted equally.
An employee who feels he is being treated equitably will continue to be motivated to work his or her job. If an employee feels he or she is being treated inequitably, the employee will seek to eliminate the distress caused by the inequity, whether this means making changes with supervisors or leaving the position all together.
There are a number of expansions and variations on the Equity Theory of motivation such as the Equity Sensitivity Construct, which suggests that people actually prefer different amounts of fairness and unfairness in their relationships. One person might find something to be inequitable, while another person is not offended by the discrepancy. This difference is accounted for by the Equity Sensitivity Construct.