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Strategic Leadership Institute

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Start With Herzberg if Motivation Lacks at Work

27/03/2011 15:56


How do you motivate people? I often come across managers or business owners who are frustrated because their employees show lack of motivation and are therefore reluctant to ‘go the extra mile’ to lift performance levels from mediocre to excellence. The manager would typically point out that the company pays competitive salaries, working conditions are adequate or better, working hours are within the boundaries of what is prescribed by law, and that inter-personal relationships are generally in good shape. Yet, still their employees show little initiative, are happy to ‘pass the buck’ instead of taking personal responsibility, and are reluctant to do more than the minimum required in their job descriptions.

Been there before or perhaps still there? Let me introduce you to Frederick Herzberg, or rather, to the late Herzberg’sTwo Factor Theory. This theory, developed in 1959, is still recognized as one of the most influential motivation theories in management science history. It basically states that one set of conditions or job characteristics – called Hygiene Factors – prevent employee dissatisfaction at work, while another set of conditions or job characteristics – called Motivator Factors – lead to employee motivation (see diagram below).

This concept is somewhat similar to Maslow’s well-known hierarchy of needs, which states that people’s basic ‘deficiency needs’ (physiological survival; security; love and belonging; and esteem) must first be met before they can be motivated to focus on the secondary or higher level needs for self-actualization (developing one’s full potential to ‘become everything that one is capable of becoming’).

However, Herzberg did not believe that meeting Hygiene Factors were a prerequisite for implementing Motivator Factors. Hygiene Factors include elements such as company policies and administration; wages, salaries and other benefits; the quality of supervision; the quality of inter-personal relations; and job security; and general working conditions. While the absence of these elements will cause employee dissatisfaction, having them in place will not motivate employees. On the other hand, the absence of Motivator Factors will not lead to dissatisfaction, but having them in place will motivate employees to higher performance and increased job commitment. Examples of Motivator Factors are personal status; promotion and opportunity for advancement; receiving recognition; been given responsibility; doing challenging or stimulating work; and a sense of personal achievement and personal growth.

Essentially then, Hygiene Factors are needed to ensure an employee is not dissatisfied while Motivator Factors are needed to motivate an employees to higher performance. So if management wishes to reduce dissatisfaction and prevent dissatisfaction on the job, they should focus on the work environment — policies, procedures, salaries, supervision, and working conditions. However, if they want to increase satisfaction and motivate employees, they have to focus on the nature of the work itself — the opportunities it presents for gaining status, assuming responsibility, and for achieving self-realization. Of course, if management is equally concerned with both then managers must give attention to both sets of factors.

While this might be ‘old news’ to motivational experts and practitioners, you would be surprised how many managers are unaware of the differences between these two sets of factors. The result is that they’re fighting a losing battle trying to improve employee motivation by improving Hygiene Factors. So if low motivation is what you’re struggling with right now, I propose taking some time to understand Herzberg’s Motivator Factors and implementing them as a first step towards motivated and committed employees.