Frederick Herzberg was the first to show that satisfaction and dissatisfaction at work nearly always arose from different factors, and were not simply opposing reactions to the same factors, as had always previously been (and still now by the unenlightened) believed.

Although Herzberg is most noted for his famous ‘hygiene’ and motivational factors theory, he was essentially concerned with people’s well-being at work. Underpinning his theories and academic teachings, he was basically attempting to bring more humanity and caring into the workplace. He and others like him, did not develop their theories to be used as ‘motivational tools’ purely to improve organizational performance. They sought instead primarily to explain how to manage people properly, for the good of all people at work.

Herzberg’s research proved that people will strive to achieve ‘hygiene’ needs (these track well with the Normal Needs from The Kano Model) because they are unhappy without them, but once satisfied, the effect soon wears off. Poorly managed organizations fail to understand that people are not ‘motivated’ by addressing ‘hygiene’ needs. For example, increased someone’s pay to match  market rate will remove a source of discontent for the employee, but that is a far cry from being a motivating factor. We call ‘hygiene’ factors the easy hard stuff as these things are easy to quantify and monitor. They are often the substance of union contracts. Examples:

People are only truly motivated when they can reach for and satisfy the factors that Herzberg identified as real motivators, such as achievement, advancement, development, etc., which represent a far deeper level of meaning and fulfillment. We call these motivational factors the hard soft stuff as they are more difficult to quantify, yet they really matter. Herzberg’s research revealed that true motivators are quite distinct from the factors above. These are:

Organizations often make the mistake of believing that addressing ‘hygiene’ needs is sufficient to create and maintain a motivated workforce.  This is not enough.  For example, some employees have described the HR policies of their organizations as “malevolent”.  Fixing these policies so that they are no longer disrespectful will just move an employee from angry to neutral.  It is just as necessary to ensure that the motivators are present in the work environment.

We highly recommend you read Herzberg’s groundbreaking article “One More Time: How Do You Motivate Employees?” published by The Harvard Business Review. We use this article in working with Leadership Teams and it always raises eyebrows and serves as an excellent foundation upon which to review existing management practices and associated unintended consequences.