Herzberg motivation theory: Why more money isn’t the answer to motivation

Though most employees think that a pay rise would be awesome, the truth is that money isn’t the main motivator for most employees.

Mo Money Mo Problems

The Notorious B.I.G didn’t just face a problem relating to disrespect.  The issue he faced is one underpinned by the Herzberg motivation-hygiene theory. The two-factor theory proposed by Herzberg in 2003 looked at job satisfaction and dissatisfaction as existing not on a continuum, but as separate entities.

Therefore one more may be paid well, but experience a great deal of job dissatisfaction due to hygiene factors. While we can’t solve the Notorious B.I.G’s hygiene problems, we might be able to solve that of our employees.

For clarity, we use the word hygiene to describe things that do not directly lead to higher satisfaction or motivation, but whose absence would produce great dissatisfaction in their absence.

The Two-Factor theory

Let’s look at the motivation-hygiene theory in more detail. At the heart of the theory, Herzberg described the factors which lead to job satisfaction as independent from those which cause from job dissatisfaction, and he termed these motivation and hygiene factors respectively. Examples of motivation factors include challenging work and recognition for one’s achievements, while hygiene factors might include job security, status, salary and working conditions. From this Theory there are four possible outcomes:

  1. A combination of high motivation and high Hygiene: this being the most ideal outcome where employees have high motivation and few complaints.
  2. A combination of high hygiene and Low motivation:  many jobs might be described in this way where an employee works simply to achieve a paycheck, such as a cleaner or garbage collector. Apart from my little brother, there aren’t many people who view these jobs with a sense of pride and accomplishment.
  3. A combination of low hygiene and high motivation: this occurs when the job is challenging but the conditions are inadequate.
  4. Finally, a combination of low hygiene and low motivation:  the worst outcome, employers should strive hard to ensure the workplace they lead cannot be described in this way.

Motivating employees by other means

Keeping the two-factor theory in mind,  there is nothing wrong with incentivizing employees with pay rises and bonuses. However we must also acknowledge that it will do very little to decrease job dissatisfaction. To ensure employees give their very best performance, they must be motivated using a two-stage process addressing both of these factors.

If you manage a team, seek to eliminate job dissatisfaction first. At the very least provide job security and comfort, as employees who face job insecurity have been shown to be more likely to have poor mental health, a factor known to be associated with poor work performance through absenteeism.

Another important aspect is creating a culture of respect and dignity for employees which may involve reducing workplace bullying through workshops, for example. Finally, tackle job satisfaction  through promotions, training, and development opportunities and ensuring recognition of employees’ contributions.

Applying Herzberg effectively – Festivus for the rest of us

To establish the factors contributing to job satisfaction and  dissatisfaction in your workplace, set aside some time with each of your employees to express their grievances confidentially and without judgement. If you’ve ever seen the Seinfeld episode about Festivus, you’ll understand how important airing grievances can be. Not only will this identify the factors to target to improve motivation, it will also improve your employee engagement by establishing trust in the employer-worker relationship.

From there, you can start to untie the knot that is employee motivation. Getting to the core of your employee motivation can be tough, but with incremental improvements you can start to shape your workplace culture for the better.

WooBoard is a peer to peer recognition platform where your employees can send public messages of thanks and appreciation to their colleagues. Sign up for your free 14-Day Trial of WooBoard today.

Stansfeld S, Candy B. Psychosocial work environment and mental health: a meta-analytic review. Scand J Work Environ Health. 2006;32(6 – special issue):443-62.


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