What really makes us happy with our jobs

I came across a study, about a year ago, published by Frederick Herzberg (an American Psychologist, and University of Utah Professor) entitled “One More Time: How Do You Motivate Employees.” As a young professional, just getting my career off the ground, the subject matter of the study was intriguing to me. Unbeknownst to me, the results of Dr. Herzberg’s work are fairly well-known in the business community. Yet, I think there is still an enormous amount of benefit that can be derived from the findings in this study – for employees and employers alike.

Dr. Herzberg’s presentation is somewhat tongue-in-cheek (for example, he refers to the force applied by an employer to motivate an employee as a KITA (Kick In The A—) However, I found the results of the study to be intriguing and insightful. Fortunately, I think the study can be summarized fairly briefly.

Dr. Herzberg came to the conclusion that – when it comes to Job Satisfaction – the opposite of satisfaction is not dissatisfaction. He concludes that the opposite of satisfaction, is no satisfaction – and the opposite of dissatisfaction is no dissatisfaction. Or in other words – the absence of satisfaction is not the same thing as being dissatisfied.

Consequently, he identified two distinct and separate sets of criteria involved with the “satisfaction” an individual experiences because of their job: one set of criteria is correlated with job satisfaction (what causes it and detracts from it) and an entirely different set of criteria for job dissatisfaction (what causes it and detracts from it.)

He aptly names the factors which lead to Job Satisfaction as “Motivators” and the factors that lead to no Job Dissatisfaction as “Hygiene” factors. In essence – the Motivators lead you to be satisfied with your job – while the Hygiene factors simply cause you to not hate your job.

It is interesting to note the factors that were identified as Hygiene Factors, and the ones identified as Motivators in the study. His findings are as follows:

Hygiene Factors (things that cause you to not hate your Job):

  • Company Policy and Administration
  • Supervision
  • Relationship with Supervisor
  • Work Conditions
  • Salary
  • Relationship with Peers
  • Personal Life
  • Relationship with Subordinates
  • Status
  • Security

Motivators (things that cause you to like your Job):

  • Achievement
  • Recognition
  • The work Itself
  • Responsibility
  • Advancement
  • Growth

Essentially, our overall “satisfaction” with our career is a combination of things that cause us to enjoy our jobs and things that cause us to hate our jobs a little less. Job satisfaction cannot be viewed on a singular plane – with satisfaction at one end, and dissatisfaction at the other. Our satisfaction with our careers, the theory implies, is a mixture of the Hygiene Factors and the Motivators.

As with all theories, it’s important to try to come to your own conclusions of: 1.) Whether the theory holds true, and 2.) What implications the theory has for you in your particular situation. The beauty of analyzing situations through a theory is that there are no universally right, wrong, applicable, or inapplicable implications for everyone universally. Each individual will derive from the theory the wisdom pertinent to their particular situation.

To me, as I thought about my own career and my own situation, I was certainly able to glean a vast amount of insight into my own situation. To be frank, I experienced a paradigm shift in the way that I approach the long-haul of my career.

However, it is my intention to focus on the Motivators and how more people can experience the factors that cause them to enjoy their careers – and not simply hate their jobs a little less.

It has been my observation that many companies – small and large – think that their duty to their employees lies in the fulfillment of the Hygiene factors. Better pay, competitive benefits, a comfortable work environment, etc. Those things are certainly important. As the name “Hygiene” implies, those items are the basic necessities for one to feel like they are in a good situation with their career. However, what is often neglected, forgotten, or otherwise unknown is that people yearn to feel important. They yearn to feel like they are valued. They want to make a difference. This does not occur by focusing on the Hygiene factors – it occurs by focusing on the motivators.

While it is true that the quest for excellence must be intrinsic on the part of the employee – I fear that many employees’ ambition, talent, and hard-work may simply be expected because of that great benefits package. Truth is, you simply can’t incentivize someone to greatness. You can, however, motivate them to it.

When it comes to the Motivators described by Dr. Herzberg, I think it is a two-part equation. First, the employee must be driven, they must love what they do, and they have to work hard. Secondly, they need a good manager. A manager who will reward them for their hard work, and recognize them for their achievement. We need more managers that are leaders; and not in title only. A manager that is a leader rallies other behind him/her, because his subordinates know that he/she appreciates them.

Other than the employee’s own efforts in creating conditions where Motivators can exist in their careers, a good manager can make all the difference.

As a new generation of workers enters the workforce – it is my opinion that we need leaders in management roles. Leaders who can rally the troops. Leaders who are capable of recognizing other’s achievements. Leaders who can recognize talent, and appreciate effort.

For you, in your situation, what do you think Dr. Herzberg’s study implies?

How Will You Measure Your Life?

How Will You Measure Your Life?
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I was introduced to Dr. Herzberg's study while reading this book. I highly recommend this - and any other of Dr. Christensen's books.