“The things that make people satisfied and motivated on the job are different in kind from the things that make them dissatisfied.” – Frederick Herzberg

Contrary to logic and common ideology, what’s making your employees dissatisfied at work might not be remedied by what’s making them stay…

For far too long, employers have thought that the pendulum of satisfaction vs. dissatisfaction in the workplace is placed on a singular scale. Employers across the globe who believe that more pay, job security and work-life balance are some of the key targets to focus on when trying to make employees happy are missing the mark on what really matters. The real answer might just surprise you.

An introduction to “The Two Factor Theory.” In 1959, Psychologist Frederick Herzberg developed the two-factor theory which is more commonly referred to as Herzberg’s motivation-hygiene theory. Herzberg’s research lead him to postulate that there are certain aspects of work and work culture that contribute to job satisfaction and other separate factors that contribute to job dissatisfaction.  Essentially, Herzberg concluded that these two categories – the things that make people enjoy work and the things that make people not enjoy work- work independent of one another. Factors that increased happiness were labeled “Motivator Factors” while factors that merely kept dissatisfaction at bay were labeled “Hygiene Factors.” Even though the research was conducted over forty years ago, it’s implications still resonate to this day and HR and executive leadership must grasp this critical concept in order to ensure employee happiness and decrease attrition rates.

Motivator Factor and Hygiene Factor explained.  In order to understand Herzberg’s, one must first grasp the idea of motivation and hygiene. If you can imagine, motivator factors can be described as factors that make work more exciting, enriching and fulfilling whereas hygiene factors simply make the job tolerable. If work were analogous to a car on the showroom floor, motivator factors are what make you really attracted to the vehicle while hygiene factors are those things that should “come standard.”

Motivator factors include: achievement, recognition, the job itself, responsibility, promotion and growth.

Hygiene factors include: pay and benefits (compensation), company policy and administration, relationship with co-workers, supervision, status, job security, working conditions and personal life.

Two sides, two coins. What Herzberg really wants us to understand is that you cannot simply inspire job satisfaction by addressing things that are considered “Hygiene.” His research leads us to understand that we cannot think of satisfaction as the antithesis of dissatisfaction but rather view the two as separate, mutually exclusive entities. The presence of satisfaction as opposed to the absence of satisfaction and the presence of dissatisfaction as opposed to the absence of dissatisfaction would be a better way of understanding this concept.

Key Findings. Herzberg proposes the following findings in light of this concept:

  1. People are made dissatisfied by a bad environment, but they are seldom made satisfied by a good environment.
  2. The prevention of dissatisfaction is just as important as encouragement of motivator satisfaction.
  3. Hygiene factors operate independently of motivation factors. An individual can be highly motivated in his work and be dissatisfied with his work environment.
  4. All hygiene factors are equally important, although their frequency of occurrence differs considerably.
  5. Hygiene improvements have short-term effects. Any improvements result in a short-term removal of, or prevention of, dissatisfaction.
  6. Hygiene needs are cyclical in nature and come back to a starting point. This leads to the “What have you done for me lately?” syndrome.
  7. Hygiene needs have an escalating zero point and no final answer
Why does this research matter? Simply stated, your HR and business strategy must account for these findings if you wish to retain top talent, motivate and encourage workers and to create an agreeable workplace culture. Management cannot expect that employees will be truly happy by providing raises while refraining from recognition and growth. Similarly, if leadership is less than agreeable and relationships with co-workers are tense then an increase in job responsibility will not make the employee forget his or her dissatisfaction. In fact, it just might make things worse.
If you want truly happy employees that lack dissatisfaction, Management and HR leadership must work together to distinguish the current climate of the organization. Once the climate is established, there must be a cohesive attempt to remedy hygiene deficiencies and a push to encourage motivator factors.