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Posted on March 2, 2020
Updated on October 13, 2021

Energy and Motivation

To understand energy and motivation we need to understand both the personal and the social. This is where organisational TA is able to be effective.

Motivation is a complex issue, influenced by many variables.  There are many different theories about motivation. TA has its own perspective on motivation. Although it has often been reduced to “seeking strokes”, Berne’s theory was more complex, working as we do with both the individual and the social.  

Berne did not speak specifically about theories of motivation, instead he offered ideas about how we structure time, which he termed “hungers” (Berne, 1972). Through these hungers and the co-construction of our experience by our interactions with other people, the ego states are developed and then mediated by group imagoes and life positions.

Personal Power

How we influence and encourage others is influenced by what we believe about our existential position. Being out of touch with our internal power may mean we try to be powerful over others (I am OK and you are not OK).

Theories about People

Theories about motivation developed in the 1920s and 1930s following the Hawthorne experiments. The conclusions of which included:

  • People are motivated by social needs
  • Rewarding relationships are important at work
  • Individuals are more responsive to pressure from work colleagues than from their managers.

The early scientific management promoted by Taylor (1912), required workers to undertake tasks according to science, in return they would be rewarded with an increase in pay. This theory was uni-dimensional, with employees being seen as economic beings (this had correlations with the Skinner experiments with animals). 

On the other hand, McGregor believed that people want to learn. He believed that people want the freedom to do difficult and challenging work by themselves. If we go with McGregor’s views, then managers and leaders need to dovetail the human wish for self-development into the organisations need for maximum productivity. 

Today modern theorists recognise the need to take into account social needs. The environment also needs to be considered including room layout in order to ensure a balance between technical needs and social needs.


Berne distinguished three different types of psychological energy. Psychological energy is also referred to as cathexis.

The three different types are: free, bound and unbound.

Bound energy can be understood as the energy that is potential. 

Free energy is energy that can be consciously and wilfully directed to any chosen Structural ego state. 

Each Structural ego state has its own potential or “bound” energy. Unbound cathexis is so termed when the energy is not within the conscious control of the individual, for example, someone who washes their hands obsessively.  

The handwashing has become problematic as it is done from contaminated beliefs and the energy that was bound has become unbound i.e. they are handwashing in a way that is connected with script. Therefore, there is a lack of autonomy for this person.

The Structural ego state with most available energy will be in executive i.e. in charge of the behaviour. The ego state that is experienced as real self will have the most free energy i.e. you will have chosen to give it the most energy.

According to Clarkson, for a person to stay stable under stress they need to be able to cathect a healthy Structural Child ego state whilst the Structural Adult is in the executive position.  

When the energy moves spontaneously from one ego state to another without the Structural Adult ego state being in the executive, then the energy is unbound and the person will be experiencing her “real self” as that ego state which has the most energy at that time.

Positive use of energy comes from the Structural Adult directing the free and bound psychic energy in a healthy way. This will enable levels of motivation to be maintained and to further develop as the Structural Child ego state energies are directed positively.

Contracting is an example of how organisations can channel this energy. The process of contracting changes bound to free energy. By ensuring that there is a contract, and that the contract is measurable, manageable and motivational, the bound or potential energy will be freed up to move into positive action, reducing the potential for games - unbound energy. 


In the workplace, motivation levels determine the effort we put in and it affects the standard of the output.

Motivation is:

  • Aspiration
  • Drive
  • Inspiration

People tend to come to work motivated. Somehow, the processes and systems at work tend to demotivate people.  Given that employees are the organisation’s greatest assets more needs to be done to maintain motivation rather than try and re-kindle it once it has declined.

 Lack of motivation affects business through:

  • Lowered productivity
  • Increased sickness levels
  • Sabotage of processes

 We are motivated by:

  • Purpose
  • Challenge
  • Recognition
  • Making a difference
  • Responsibility
  • Achievement
  • Leadership

Organisational Power

 This is:

  • Formal authority
  • Given by role and status
  • Affected by how we use this with our own personal power
  • This is a dynamic relationship which affects performance of the whole system

 Organisational Motivational Strategies

  • Positive reinforcement
  • Accounting
  • Contracts and communication
  • Keeping OK/OK
  • Achievements
  • Goals
  • Expectations


Empowering Strategies

  • Feedback
  • Recognition
  • Soon
  • Sincere
  • Specific
  • Positive
  • Trust


One of the most important aspects of organisational life is the dynamic relationship between personal and formal, or positional, power and how these are used.

Responsibility with authority is empowerment.  We need to entrust people with making decisions  - within the remit of their role and professional abilities.

Trust develops motivation.

Clear contracts: 

  • Outline decision making ability/accountability
  • Support
  • Appropriate level of guidance
  • Ensure you have the right people for the job

Giving Rewards

George Homans (1951) stated that when rewards were withheld this leads to apathy, and yet when we are over stroked the value of the strokes we receive can be reduced.

It can be helpful to ascertain in which Structural ego state we are obtaining the most strokes, and whether this meets our need. If there is a discrepancy between the ego states, which receives the strokes, and the one we need to be receiving the strokes, there will be a discrepancy.

If we structure our time in a tense highly pressured work environment, working 50 hours a week obtaining strokes for our Structural Parent ego state whilst requiring strokes for our Structural Child ego state then we will fall short of our stroke quotient and are likely to become stressed. However, by paying attention to altering the way in which we structure time, we are able to better meet our stroke needs.


Berne E. (1972), What do you say after you say hello?, Bantam Books

Clarkson P. (1992),Transactional Analysis psychotherapy, an integrated approach, Routledge

Gallagher K et al (1997), People in Organisations, an active learning approach,Blackwell Business

James N. (1994), Cultural Frame of Reference and Intergroup Encounters: A TA Approach, TAJ 24:3

Homans G (1951), The Human Group, Routledge and Kegan Paul

Massey R. (1996), Transactional Analysis as a Social Psychology, TAJ 26:1

Mayo E. (1949), Hawthorne and the Western Electric Company, (in Gallagher K et al (1997), People in Organisations, an active learning approach, Blackwell Business)

McGregor D (1960), The human side of enterprise, McGraw-Hill Book Company, quoted in Villere M.F. & LeBoeuf M (1978) TAJ 8:3.

Mountain A and Davidson C (2011) Working Together: Organizational Transactional Analysis and Business Performance Gower Publishing