What makes people happy and motivated at work is what they do. What makes people unhappy is the situation in which they do it.Frederick Herzberg
Motivation is a fickle source of fuel in today’s workforces and it is resulting in inconsistent productivity and output. Most companies see employees accomplish most of their tasks on a Monday but by the time Friday comes motivation is barely a whimper.
It’s not just on a week to week basis that motivation fluctuates. It is year round. Statistically, October is traditionally the most productive month but January records the least amount of tasks completed. Businesses need better predictability and consistency to optimize performance.
Thankfully, Frederick Herzberg, an American Psychologist, sought to get to the bottom of employee motivation. He understood that motivation is a complex concept but actually revolves around mental health.
If organizations are going to maintain consistent motivation, year round, they need to address positive and negative influences on employee mental health.
What is Frederick Herzberg’s Two Factor Theory?
Frederick Herzberg understood that mental health was the core issue of our time long before anyone attempted to do anything about it. He knew that organizations, who were used to treating employees as cogs in the machine, needed a more sophisticated understanding of what drives performance.
To create a roadmap to improved employee commitment, Herzberg delved deep into motivation and mental health and developed the Two Factor Theory. It quickly became widely used and adopted a host of new names including the Motivation Theory Model, Herzberg’s Theory of Motivation-Hygiene and the Dual Structure Theory.
Herzberg’s model explained that there are two parts to motivation that an employer can influence, both operating independently:
- Motivators: Factors that encourage employees to work harder.
- Motivation Hygiene: Factors that undermine motivation and decrease job satisfaction.
In the words of Herzberg himself:
“What makes people happy and motivated at work is what they do. What makes people unhappy is the situation in which they do it”.
What motivates employees to work harder?
To understand how pioneering his model is, you should know that Herzberg developed the theory in 1959. To this day, it continues to be echoed in infamous models like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and Dan Pink’s 3 Elements of Intrinsic Motivation.
In 2019, an empirical test in the Journal of Marketing and Management found that it is still successfully enhancing motivational results. This was further proven by a group of Texas correctional officers who confirmed Herzberg’s motivational factors:
Motivational Factors (stuff that motivates people to do their best work):
For a role to be truly motivating it must fill the employee with a sense of achievement and pride. It must provide a challenge and feel worthwhile. Dan Pink refers to these as the Goldilocks tasks – neither too hot to handle nor too easy to be interesting.
The employee must be provided with feedback from leadership and peers that acknowledges their success. This speaks to the employees sense of belonging and purpose.
- The Work
There must be enough challenge and variety to the actual work your employee does for the job to stay interesting.
A clear commonality between Herzberg’s responsibility and Pink’s autonomy. Your employees must be able to own their role and feel a sense of personal drive to achieve success. This responsibility should include supportive feedback and avoid micromanagement.
87% of millennials are looking for jobs that give them career development opportunities. This is a constant motivator across the board but becoming even more important in today’s recruitment.
Employees should be given the chance to learn new skills. People are challenged and inspired by learning and this proves highly motivating as part of a clearly defined role.
What are the hygiene factors undermining motivation?
Herzberg’s model is interesting in how it treats job satisfaction. Less as a route to complete employee engagement and more as the foundation that needs to be satisfied.
Herzberg’s hygiene factors involve extrinsic motivators and general annoyances that can really dampen the team’s willingness. They are unlikely to drive performance but if they are not catered to, employees get fed up.
- Policies and Rules
The rules and operating procedures of your company must be clear and fair for all to avoid dissatisfaction. In addition, they should be at least as favorable as they could find in a competing company.
As discussed in motivation, autonomy is important. Supervision is a positive influencer provided it remains supportive and fair. Most people actually do want a manager, to help guide them and ensure they are working on things that can move the company forward.
- Interpersonal Relationships
Gartner’s Q12 survey finds relationships to be particularly critical to engagement as it asks if employees have ‘a best friend at work’ and ‘someone at works cares about them’. Whilst referring to both of these, Herzberg also states that there must be no place for bullying or cliques. Relationships need to remain healthy and amiable.
- Working Conditions
The working conditions must be safe, fit for the job and healthy. Plain and simple.
Once again, way ahead of its time. A 2010 study of 15,000 people found that once salary is deemed to be fair, it quickly becomes less motivationally important. In easy to understand terms, money does not buy engagement but does remove it from the dissatisfaction pile once it is fair and equitable.
While the status of titles and roles is mainly to do with ego, it does embed dissatisfaction. If an employee thinks they are too far down the pecking order, they will feel undervalued which challenges motivation.
Level two on Maslow’s hierarchy is the need for safety and security. Employees need to know their job is safe and there is no immediate redundancy threat for them to show up fully committed every day.
How can you use the Two Factor Theory to Enhance Motivation?
Herzberg didn’t really see the need to complicate matters when it came to motivation. He found that the quickest way to arrest a sinking motivational ship was to plug the ‘hygiene’ holes before working on the motivators.
Step 1: Eliminate Job Stressors
No matter what you do with motivating factors, you are swimming against the tide if you don’t handle the hygiene factors. Employees experience these factors individually but quite often there are easily identifiable remedies.
Surveying employees will often answer the irritants they experience. They may answer differently but at least you can begin to understand what policies, conditions or even titles are actually grating on the team. Foster a culture of respect, support and honesty and alleviate ongoing concerns.
As soon as these matters are solved, you can leverage the motivators to truly enhance performance.
Step 2: Create an Engaging and Satisfying Environment
Herzberg discussed the process of enhancing motivation by using a 3-pronged strategy. The suggestion was to look at the individual job and see how the content of the role could be improved. What could you change to give the employee a more engaging experience?
Job Enrichment – 1 in 3 employees quit out of boredom. Therefore, enrichment concentrates on the level of challenge each employee faces to reduce boredom and disillusionment. If you think someone on the team has outgrown their role, find more difficult projects for them to work on. With greater complexity comes greater intrigue but avoid going too far. Remember the Goldilocks tasks.
Job Enlargement – Enlargement focuses on the need for the freshness of learning something new. Provided it is manageable within the employees schedule, opportunities to learn and diversify their skills is engaging. Enlargement suggests giving the team a variety of different tasks that leverages their skills to keep them interested. This could be further education and training opportunities or the chance to work with a new team.
Employee Empowerment – Dan Pink refers to autonomy and mastery as two of the big three intrinsic motivators. Empowerment serves them both. This suggests that you entrust employees with added responsibilities and invite them to offer their own ideas and leadership where appropriate.
Frederick Herzberg was a man before his time. His Two-Factor Theory of Motivation continues to get results and has given a platform for many of the theories of motivation we see today.
If your team is lacking the impetus and performance is waning, you might just have a motivational problem. What holes could you potentially have in your boat? Are the team being let down by fixable extrinsic factors? Once you satisfy all the hygiene criteria, how could you enrich team roles to get sustainably high performance?
Herzberg’s focus on mental health as a facet of motivation treats employees like humans with human needs. We love to feel respected and valued and as though we are pursuing meaningful work. It gives us that innate satisfaction we crave. The Two Factor Theory listens carefully to frustrations whilst giving a home to our drive for greater success.