I think a lot of us underestimate the importance of balance. Without balance, we’re not as successful or productive. Take an athlete. For them to perform at peak performance, they must have a routine that includes proper exercise, nutrition, and sleep. Also, balance plays a vital role in the motivation equation. And, it may be because of something called the equity theory.
What is Equity Theory?
Developed in 1963 by behavioral psychologist John Stacey Adams, equity theory simply argues that there needs to be a balance between an employee’s input and output. When balance is achieved, the employee will feel more satisfied. As a result, they’ll be more productive and motivated.
According to Adams, “inputs are the personal efforts and rewards that are put into work. “Outputs” are everything that we get in return.
Inputs can include:
- Loyalty and commitment
- Skills and abilities
- Effort and enthusiasm
- Flexibility and adaptability
- Personal sacrifice
- Trust and support from leader and colleagues
Outputs can refer to:
- Financial compensation
- Job security
- Praise and recognition
- Sense of career advancement
- Personal growth
- Additional responsibility and autonomy
As further explained in HRZone:
Equity theory is based on the principle that peoples’ actions and motivations are guided by fairness and that discrepancies in this fairness in the workplace will spur them to try and redress it. According to Carrell and Dittrich (1978), “employees who perceive inequity will seek to reduce it, either by distorting inputs and/or outcomes in their own minds (“cognitive distortion”), directly altering inputs and/or outcomes, or leaving the organization.”
In short, this theory states that we strive for a fair balance between what we put into something and what we get out of it.
How Leaders Can Apply Adam’s Equity Theory
If you’re still scratching your head, let’s break down this theory even more.
People expect to be adequately rewarded for their efforts. They also expect others to be rewarded the same way. So, if you have two employees who have the same responsibilities, they should be paid the same exact salary.
When there are inequalities in rewards, you can anticipate a decrease in job satisfaction. This can lead to lower productivity, morale, and even a higher turnover rate. Even worse, this could result in deviant workplace behavior.
To prevent this, leaders must treat all employees equally. That’s why communication is key. It allows you to address any concerns and recognize your team for their hard work. Also, it gives you the chance to connect their work to the bigger picture.
How We Compare: Referent Groups
Another component of equity theory within the motivation equation is how we compare our work to others. According to Adams, there are four referent groups;
The individual’s experience within their organization.
The individual’s experience with outside organizations.
Others within the individual’s organization.
Others outside of the individual organization.
For example, when a programmer compares themselves to their fellow programmers in your business, this would be others inside. If they compare themselves to their friends who are programmers, this would be others outside. If they compare their salary to their previous gig, this would be self-outside.
What’s interesting is that we don’t always compare ourselves to the same position. It’s not uncommon to compare your salary with what the CEO is making. In their mind, it probably doesn’t seem fair that they’re making millions of dollars.
But, that’s when they have to examine the outputs. Even though the CEO is making more money, they may not have a healthy work-life balance. They should also take into account that the CEO has more responsibilities and stress than they do.
The Equity Theory Beyond the Traditional Workplace
So far we’ve focused on the equity theory in a traditional workplace setting. And, that was its original intent.
But, in my opinion, it can be used elsewhere.
Let’s say that you’re a freelancer or entrepreneur. You hustle every day but haven’t achieved the level of success that someone like Elon Musk has. That would be an example of others outside.
How can you combat this comparison?
Musk is running two companies and works an excessive amount of hours per week. Even though he’s extremely successful, he probably doesn’t enjoy the work-life balance you do. For him, he’s willing to sacrifice that for changing the world. For you, you could forfeit that fame and fortune just so you could spend more time with your family.
If you and your spouse start a new diet and exercise regimen, you’ll compare how much weight you’ve lost. For them, they could have lost twenty pounds, but you only lost five. That can de-motivate you because you’ve put in the same effort, without the same results.
Where can you find fairness and balance?
In this case, you get to spend quality time with your spouse. And, despite the fact that you haven’t lost the same amount of weight, you feel more energetic and are sleeping better. Those are your motivations.
Finding and Maintaining Balance
As you can see, there are a number of motivation equation factors that can influence your inputs. As a result, this is going to affect your outputs. So, how can you ensure that they’re balanced?
Become more aware.
Take a moment to reflect on your current state.
Is work suffering because you’re going out every night with your friends? Are you disappointed that a colleague is making more than you are? Do you have trouble exercising because you don’t have time?
This may sound simplistic. But, by becoming more aware you can start to see how you’re impacting other areas of your life.
Additionally, when you’re more aware you can notice when you start to slack or drift. Let’s say that every morning you read for 15-minutes. Then one day you start watching TV. If you’re not paying attention you’re replacing that healthy habit with a bad one.
Make a plan of action.
Once you take stock of your surroundings, you can adjust accordingly.
Instead of going out every night, cut back to once a week. If you believe you deserve a raise, then bring that to the attention of your boss. When there’s not enough time to work out, start waking up 30-minutes earlier.
Furthermore, if you notice that you’re no longer doing something productive, like reading in the morning, you can adjust that habit. Turn off the TV and pick up an inspiring book instead.
Control your impulses.
Let’s say you join a marathon. You wouldn’t burst out of the gates when it starts. If you did, you wouldn’t have enough energy to finish.
At the same time, you wouldn’t just walk the entire marathon. It would take forever.
You have to find that happy medium where you get off to a good start but are reserving enough energy to cross the finish line.
Motivation is kind of the same thing.
Some days you’re ready to conquer the world. You spring into action and tackle everything on your to-do list. That’s great, but it’s also unsustainable. The next day, you may be drained.
On other days you’re dragging and aren’t feeling motivated. As a result, you may spend most of your day on Facebook or binge-watching Netflix.
Being balanced means that you’re aware of these emotions. Instead of letting these impulses rule you, you need to acknowledge them. This way you can resist them and stay on track.
You can achieve this by also avoiding distractions, like turning off all notifications. Another trick is creating a detailed to-do list with your top five priorities.
The point is to keep your impulses at bay so that your productivity remains consistent on a daily basis as part of the motivation equation.
Stay in the present.
Spending too much time thinking of the past or worrying about the future means that you’re neglecting the present. When this happens you aren’t focused on what needs to be done right now.
For example, you just landed a new client and they’ve hired for the next couple of months. Since you’re so consumed with this new project, you leave the dinner table and rush into your office. Instead of enjoying quality times with your family, you’re thinking about something that’s down the road.
That’s not to say that you should blow off work as part of the motivation equation. It means knowing your priorities at this very moment. In this case, it’s spending time with your family. You’ll get started on that project tomorrow morning.