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Two Sides of Employee Motivation


Mon Nov 17 2014

Two Sides of Employee Motivation

Imagine trying to get someone to run fast while attached to an open parachute. It’s hard.  So how do we motivate this person to run faster? If you said, “Get rid of the parachute,” you would only be half right. While eliminating the obstacle will make the job easier (and the person probably will be able to run faster), 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 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.

Understanding de-motivators

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 that satisfied and motivated people at work are different from the things that make them dissatisfied, such as low salaries, uncomfortable workspaces, poor processes, annoying bosses, and dysfunctional teams.

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 Hygiene Factors, but must also find ways to enrich the jobs themselves—so employees can experience achievement, recognition, increasing responsibility, challenge, and interesting work.

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 to determine which factors are the most prevalent and whether you can proactively begin to eliminate the problems.

Next, take a long hard look at the work each of your direct reports is required to do each day. Within their job functions, are there ample opportunities to experience achievement, recognition, challenge, responsibility, and interesting work? If not, here 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 more freedom in how employees accomplish their role.

  • Grant employees additional authority in their role.

  • Help some staff specialize and become experts in certain niche areas.

  • Let employees touch a project from start to finish to increase their sense of achievement.

  • Make sure employees have specific feedback, which helps them see their progress.

  • Regularly recognize employees for achievements.

Reducing Hygiene Factors and increasing job enrichment are both essential for creating a motivated and satisfying workplace. Remember to do the little things that add enrichment to someone’s job, and it will open the door to the powerful storehouse of motivation from within them.

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