Imagine trying to get someone to run fast while attached to an open parachute. Its hard.  So how do we motivate this person to run faster? If you said “Get rid of the parachute” you would be wrong. While eliminating the obstacle will make the job easier and they probably will be able to run faster, but it does not mean we have increased the motivation of the runner.

A very common misconception is that in order to motivate employees you need to identify the de-motivators and then eliminate them. While this is always helpful, it does not always lead to a motivated workforce. A better way to think of de-motivators is to imagine them as rocks in everyone’s shoes when they are climbing a mountain. The pebbles make the journey a lot more difficult. Removing them will definitely create a more satisfying environment but does it increase your motivation to climb the mountain? Probably not.

The first person to make this distinction between motivators and de-motivators is a psychologist by the name of Frederick Herzberg. By studying workplace motivation, he made a profound discovery that is still talked about more than 40 years later. Herzberg found that the things which satisfied and motivated people at work, are different in kind from the things that make them dissatisfied. Things like low salaries, uncomfortable workspaces, stupid processes, annoying bosses, and dysfunctional teams, lead to job dissatisfaction. Herzberg called these Hygiene Factors as they were mostly related to the environmental factors surrounding a job, rather than the work itself. Herzberg’s research also found that people are more motivated by achievement, recognition, increasing responsibility, growth, and the work itself.

In order to increase motivation, we cannot only focus on eliminating these so-called “Hygiene Factors,” but must also find ways to enrich the jobs themselves, so employees can experience achievement, recognition, increasing responsibility, challenge and interesting work. So our goal should be to reduce sources of employee dissatisfaction while striving to increase motivation through enriching the jobs themselves. Herzberg’s theory is called the Motivation-Hygiene Theory, also known as the Two-Factor Theory.

Practical Application

Make your own list of Hygiene Factors (rocks in everyone’s shoes) that are currently lowering job satisfaction. Try and figure out which of them are the most prevalent and see if you can proactively begin to eliminate the problems. Secondly, take a long hard look at the work which each of your direct reports is required to do each day. Within their job functions, ask yourself if there are ample opportunities to experience achievement, recognition, challenge, responsibility, and interesting work.

Below are a few ideas on how you might enrich someone’s job in order to increase their motivation.

-       Introduce new and more difficult tasks not previously handled

-       Remove some of the controls and give them more freedom in how they accomplish their role

-       Grant them additional authority in their role

-       Help some of your staff specialize and become experts in certain niche areas

-       Let employees be able to touch a project from start to finish increasing their sense of achievement

-       Make sure employees have specific feedback which helps them see their progress

-       Make sure employees are regularly recognized for achievements

Reducing Hygiene Factors as well as increasing job enrichment are both essential for creating a  motivated and satisfying workplace.

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