Vroom Expectancy Theory: Should I Chuck My Career?

I was watching a show last night based upon a book I am reading. Germs, Guns and Steel by Jared Diamond. The book was published in 1997 and a PBS series was done in 2005, and that is what I was watching. I have found the book to be very interesting and the series was very good. As I watching it I made the comment “That is what I should have done, I should have been a historian.” Both my daughter and wife almost simultanteously said “Well it is not too late.” My wife then asked “What is stopping you?” My response was “This house, my paycheck, eating and the other things that could not stand me taking several years off work to pursue a degree.” Her response was “Surely there is a program that you could do online.” I said “I doubt it, not on the Ph.D. level.” Of course I had not checked that statement for truthfulness, at least not recently.

But the nagging thought in the back of my head was “Do I really want to do that much work at 58 years old?” (well almost 58, my birthday is July 7th.) “Will the opportunity to do anything with that degree be there?” “Will it pay off for me beyond personal gratification to finally have the Ph.D. I have always wanted?”

This reminded me of Vroom’s Expectancy Theory, which states that “… behavior results from conscious choices among alternatives whose purpose it is to maximize pleasure and minimize pain.”

Vroom’s Expectancy Theory is based upon the following three beliefs (from Wikipedia):

  1. Valence (Valence refers to the emotional orientations people hold with respect to outcomes [rewards]. The depth of the want of an employee for extrinsic [money, promotion, time-off, benefits] or intrinsic [satisfaction] rewards). Management must discover what employees value.
  2. Expectancy (Employees have different expectations and levels of confidence about what they are capable of doing). Management must discover what resources, training, or supervision employees need.
  3. Instrumentality (The perception of employees whether they will actually get what they desire even if it has been promised by a manager). Management must ensure that promises of rewards are fulfilled and that employees are aware of that.

Vroom suggests that an employee’s beliefs about Expectancy, Instrumentality, and Valence interact psychologically to create a motivational force such that the employee acts in ways that bring pleasure and avoid pain. This force can be ‘calculated’ via the following formula: Motivation = Valance × Expectancy(Instrumentality). This formula can be used to indicate and predict such things as job satisfaction, one’s occupational choice, the likelihood of staying in a job, and the effort one might expend at work.

In terms of this my situation is the following:

  1. Do I expect that I can do a good job at getting a doctorate in history? (I have always been good in academics, I enjoy reading history, so I would probably to a good job.)
  2. Instrumenaltiy : What’s the probability that, if I do a good job, that there will be some kind of outcome in it for me? In other words would I, could I, get a job using that degree? (Given my knowledge of hiring practices, my guess would be probably not. Without alot of university teaching experience and my age I feel I would be a disadvantaged candidate. By the time I get the doctorate I would be 60 or so. I do have teaching experience but at the Instructor level in a Continuing Ed program.)
  3. Valence: Is the Outcome I get of any value to me? (If I were to get the Ph.D. but no teaching job would the degree help my consulting practice? Would personal satisfaction at attaining a long held, but abandoned goal, be enough to overcome the effort required to get the degree?)

Given the formula form above:


I would conclude that I am not motivated enough to pursue the Ph.D. in History because of the low expecation of a successful outcome of doing something with it. Do I want to shut down a career of almost 30 years in HR to do this? Or could I do this and perhaps do a Ph.D. in the History of HR? Is there such a thing? Can I do it online? Lots of unanswered questions.

Or maybe I have just gotten lazy? What do you think?

1 thought on “Vroom Expectancy Theory: Should I Chuck My Career?”

  1. It would seem that if you allowed you decsion to be based soley on the premise of a singular motivational theory you are perhaps denying yourself the opportunity to achieve something. Sometime it is not about the destination, sometimes it is about the journey. What is it you want to achieve? Please do not deny your children (or grandchildren) the opportunity to be insired by witnessing the courage and dedication that comes with the pursuit of dream. If you want to have a PHD then get off your arse and go get it. Stop making excuses not do it. Those two years are going to roll right on by anyway. May as well do something useful with them

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