Satisfaction and dissatisfaction in the workplace: An old theory still holds
At Actuate, we are continuously exploring both new and established theories relating to motivation and organisational culture in order to enhance our approach to employee engagement. And by applying certain theories and ways of thinking to our daily work with clients, we can ascertain whether they are in fact relevant and useful in today's business environments.
One of the theories that Actuate has recently been investigating is the two-factor theory - also known as Herzberg's motivation-hygiene theory. It states that there are certain factors in the workplace that lead tojob satisfaction, while a separate set of factors cause dissatisfaction. The theory was developed by Frederick Herzberg, a psychologist who believed that job satisfaction and job dissatisfaction act independently of each other.
Essentially, Herzberg was the first researcher to demonstrate that satisfaction and dissatisfaction at work nearly always arise from different factors. This was very different to the common belief that satisfaction and dissatisfaction are simply opposing reactions to the same circumstances. Herzberg's theory had critical ramifications for traditional approaches to attitudes in the workplace, and how to influence them. Indeed, his findings can be viewed as among the roots of employee engagement.
Having recognised the importance of Herzberg's thinking, Actuate incorporated the two-factor theory both as a starting point and as a lens through which to view our work with the executive leadership of a large South African company. Based on the results and our ongoing interactions, we concluded that Herzberg's theory remains highly applicable to professionals in the workplacetoday.
Motivators vs. Hygiene Factors
Herzberg developed the theory based on data collected from interviews with a large number of engineers and accountants, i.e. those whom we would term 'knowledge workers,' which makes the data relevant to today's managers/executives. From analysing these interviews, Herzberg discovered that job characteristics related to what an individual does - i.e. the nature of the work he performs - have the capacity to gratify such needs as achievement, competency, status, personal worth, and self-realisation - making him/her happy and satisfied.
Yet at the same time, the absence of gratifying job characteristics does not lead to unhappiness and dissatisfaction. Instead, dissatisfaction is caused bypoor assessments of job-related factors such as company policies, supervision, technical problems, salary, interpersonal relations on the job, and working conditions.
Herzberg called the satisfiers 'motivators' and the dis-satisfiers 'hygiene' factors - using the term hygiene in the sense that they are considered maintenance factors, necessary to avoid dissatisfaction but by themselves they do not provide satisfaction.
So what can managers and business leaders take from all this?
Putting theTwo-Factor Theory into Practice
Firstly, one must define what the goal is. Do you want to increase satisfaction, or reduce dissatisfaction? Depending on the company's internal dynamics, the priorities may differ. However, we believe that for an organisation to operate at its full potential, leadership must strive to address both - simultaneously. So the strategy should ideally be two-fold.
In order to increase satisfaction on the job, managersmust be concerned with the nature of the work itself. For example, are thereopportunities for gaining status, assuming responsibility, and for achieving self-realisation?According to Herzberg, individuals are not content with the satisfaction of lower-order needs at work, such as those associated with salary levels or safe and pleasant working conditions. Rather, individuals look for the gratification of higher-level psychological needs. The top six factors causing satisfaction are (in order of importance): achievement, recognition, work itself, responsibility, advancement and growth.
To reduce dissatisfaction, leadership must focus on the job environment. The top seven factors leading to dissatisfaction are: company policy, supervision, relationship with boss, work conditions, salary, relationship with peers and job security.
Having matched these factors with a survey conducted with the leadership team of an existing client, we can report that they appear to remain almost unchanged.
Herzberg also argued that job enrichment is required for intrinsic motivation, and that it is a continuous management process. He stated that: "The job should have sufficient challenge to utilise the full ability of the employee, and if a job cannot be designed to use an employee's full abilities, then the firm should consider automating the task or replacing the employee with one who has a lower level of skill. If a person cannot be fully utilised, then there will be a motivation problem."
While the two-factor theory may at first glance appear to be overly simplistic or too general, it in fact encompasses and explains a great deal of the challenges that leaders face on a daily basis. From an employee engagement perspective, it provides a valuable framework from which to approach and solvemotivational problems, and we encourage business leaders to incorporate this thinking into their own strategies.
About the author
Kevin Liebenberg is MD of Actuate, employee engagement specialists.
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