What is Equity Theory?

Equity theory is a theory of motivation that suggests that employee motivation at work is driven largely by their sense of fairness.

Equity theory, developed by psychologist J. Stacy Adams, is a concept that explains how individuals perceive and evaluate fairness in the workplace. It suggests that employees compare the ratio of their inputs (e.g., efforts, contributions, skills) to outcomes (e.g., rewards, recognition) with the ratio of their colleagues or a reference group. The theory asserts that individuals strive for fairness in these ratios and are motivated to maintain or restore equity when they perceive inequity.

Here are key points to understand about equity theory in the workplace:

1. Equity Comparison: Employees assess their own input-to-outcome ratios and compare them with those of others in similar positions or reference groups. Inputs may include time, effort, skills, knowledge, and dedication, while outcomes can involve salary, benefits, promotions, recognition, and job satisfaction.

2. Equity Perceptions: Employees evaluate whether they perceive their own ratio as equitable or inequitable. Equity is achieved when an individual's ratio matches that of their colleagues or the reference group. Inequity occurs when the ratios are perceived as unequal.

3. Overpayment Inequity: When an employee perceives their own ratio as more favorable than that of their colleagues or reference group, they experience overpayment inequity. This can lead to feelings of guilt or a sense of indebtedness.

4. Underpayment Inequity: When an employee perceives their own ratio as less favorable compared to others, they experience underpayment inequity. This can result in feelings of anger, dissatisfaction, and a desire for increased rewards.

5. Restoring Equity: When individuals perceive inequity, they may be motivated to restore balance. They can do this by adjusting their inputs (e.g., reducing effort), seeking more outcomes (e.g., asking for a raise), changing their perceptions of the situation, or comparing themselves to different reference groups.

6. Effects on Motivation: Inequity can affect employee motivation. Individuals experiencing underpayment inequity may be demotivated and decrease their effort or engagement. Overpayment inequity may also lead to reduced motivation due to feelings of guilt or lack of challenge.

7 . Managerial Implications: Equity theory has implications for managers in promoting a fair and equitable work environment. To reduce inequity perceptions, managers can strive to ensure transparency in reward systems, provide clear performance criteria, establish fair compensation structures, and offer opportunities for employee input and voice.

6. Limitations: It's important to note that equity theory is based on individual perceptions, which may be subjective and influenced by personal factors. Additionally, what individuals consider as equitable may vary, and not all employees may be driven solely by equity concerns.
Understanding equity theory helps organizations and managers recognize the importance of fairness in the workplace and address inequities to maintain employee motivation, satisfaction, and well-being. By striving to create an environment where employees perceive fairness in the distribution of rewards and outcomes, organizations can foster a positive work culture and enhance employee engagement and performance.


AI-talent sourcing tools play a crucial role in promoting equity theory by facilitating fair and unbiased candidate evaluation and selection processes. These tools use algorithms and machine learning to assess candidates based on predefined criteria, thereby reducing the influence of subjective biases that may exist in traditional hiring methods. By providing equal opportunities to all candidates and focusing solely on qualifications and skills, AI-talent sourcing tools contribute to creating a more equitable recruitment environment. This aligns with the principles of equity theory, which emphasizes the importance of fairness and impartiality in social exchanges.