A Guide to Affiliation Motivation

Updated July 21, 2022

Many people seek a sense of belonging. This concept, known as "affiliation motivation," relates to the drive to be accepted by others and perform well to meet their expectations. Understanding this type of motivation can help you figure out the wants and needs that motivate your team members, which can provide an overall benefit to your workplace.

In this guide, we will review what affiliation motivation is, what characteristics it produces and how it can impact the workplace.

What is the affiliation motivation theory?

The affiliation motivation theory is the belief that people desire to belong to a group or organization. Affiliation motivation is part of psychologist David McClelland’s "Three Needs Theory," which proposes that individuals have three basic drives: affiliation, power and achievement. Since the development of the theory, managers and organizational psychologists have used affiliation motivation to gauge how well employees are likely to contribute to team efforts. 

Understanding how affiliation motivation can affect your team members can help reach your workplace goals. In a work setting, affiliation motivation can encourage coworkers to communicate clearly and develop close relationships with one another, leading to a sense of community. If your primary needs tend to focus on this type of motivation, you may find enjoyment from acting as a support member on your team. In a management role, knowing who is highly motivated by affiliation can help you choose the best candidates to participate in a group project. 

Related: Job Interview Question: “What Motivates You?” (With Examples)

Characteristics of someone motivated by affiliation

If you find motivation in the need for affiliation, then you may find it easier to do the following at work:

  • Form strong interpersonal relationships

  • Prefer certainty

  • Cooperate well with others

  • Agree with group decisions

  • Identify the positive characteristics of team members

You can also identify some characteristics in your team members that may indicate they are motivated by affiliation. Those characteristics include:

  • The ability to develop an honest and open rapport

  • A preference for a cooperative work environment

  • Better performance in small projects involving a group 

Related: Interpersonal Skills: Definitions and Examples

How affiliation motivation impacts the workplace

Two main factors in affiliation motivation affect how employees perform in the workplace: perception and intuition.

  • Perception: Perception is how you see and evaluate the world around you, including your workplace. If you respond strongly to affiliation motivation, you may tend to focus on your perceptions of other people.

  • Intuition: Intuition is a process of judgment using your underlying perceptions and decisions, sometimes unconsciously. This trait can be very useful in the workplace, as someone motivated by affiliation will often use their intuition to develop and maintain positive relationships with their coworkers.

How to apply affiliation motivation in the workplace

Follow these steps to effectively apply affiliation motivation in the workplace and encourage your team:

  1. Identify what motivates the members of your team to see if they will respond best to affiliation motivation.

  2. Practice team building activities so that employees and colleagues interact with each other on a personal level and learn about each other.

  3. Promote the success of the group over individual success. For example, you could assign goals and quotas to teams instead of individual employees.

  4. Encourage healthy social interaction during the work hours, such as creating group environments where your team can relax together during breaks.

  5. Create rewards when your team achieves its goals so they can help each other reach success and enjoy the rewards for their efforts together.

Affiliation motivation example

You can apply the theory of affiliation motivation to help encourage team members and foster a sense of belonging. For example, consider a situation in which your employer tasks your team with improving your company’s social media presence. 

If one of your team members is motivated by affiliation, they may find the desire to create content that is engaging and encourages interaction with the company website. Their motivation to run a successful campaign comes not from the possible promotion or pay raise, but from the desire to support their team. When they provide their coworkers with the tools they need to succeed in the project, they are helping to create a sense of belonging in an environment that motivates them. 

If you recognize that one or more of your team members finds motivation in their desire to bond with others, you can take a few steps that ensure they would stay motivated in a project like this. For example, you could encourage them by providing positive reinforcement and letting them know that their contribution to the project can help their coworkers achieve their career goals. If they are primarily motivated by affiliation, a large part of their reward for doing a good job will likely come from their improved social standing on the team.

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