Work motivation "is a set of energetic forces that originate both within as well as beyond an individual's being, to initiate work-related behavior, and to determine its form, direction, intensity, and duration" Understanding what motivates an organization's employees is central to the study of I–O psychology. Motivation is a person's internal disposition to be concerned with an approach positive incentives and avoid negative incentives. To further this, an incentive is the anticipated reward or aversive event available in the environment. While motivation can often be used as a tool to help predict behavior, it varies greatly among individuals and must often be combined with ability and environmental factors to actually influence behavior and performance. Because of motivation's role in influencing workplace behavior and performance, it is key for organizations to understand and to structure the work environment to encourage productive behaviors and discourage those that are unproductive.
There is general consensus that motivation involves three psychological processes: arousal, direction, and intensity. Arousal is what initiates action. It is fueled by a person's need or desire for something that is missing from their lives at a given moment, either totally or partially. Direction refers to the path employees take in accomplishing the goals they set for themselves. Finally, intensity is the vigor and amount of energy employees put into this goal-directed work performance. The level of intensity is based on the importance and difficulty of the goal. These psychological processes result in four outcomes. First, motivation serves to direct attention, focusing on particular issues, people, tasks, etc. It also serves to stimulate an employee to put forth effort. Next, motivation results in persistence, preventing one from deviating from the goal-seeking behavior. Finally, motivation results in task strategies, which as defined by Mitchell & Daniels, are "patterns of behavior produced to reach a particular goal.