Evan Goodman

How to turn grumpy employees into satisfied employees – insights from Herzberg’s two-factor theory

Hand on your heart – ask yourself -are you totally satisfied with your job? You are not likely to be all that dissatisfied, after all, the job pays the bills and most of the people who you workd with ‘ok’. However, you are unlikely to be ‘super happy’. 

A study by Deloitte revealed that meaningful work and career growth are the two stand out elements that make employees satisfied. Alarmingly,, only 49% participants expressed that their employees are ‘satisfied’ with their job design. Only 38% believed that they have enough autonomy to take part into the decision making. Here are some other stats from the same Deloitte study –

  • Only 49% of respondents claim their employees are at least ‘satisfied’ with their job design
  • 42% believe their workers are content with their day-to-day practices
  • 38% say their team is happy with work-related tools and technology
  • 38% think they have enough autonomy to make good decisions

We live in this era when the workforce is characterised by millennials and Gen Y’s who are mostly famous for being a ‘job hopping generation’. It is becoming rarer to see employees spent long periods of time in a single job these days. Consequently, companies struggle with higher turn-over and mounting retention cost. To tackle such problems, an old yet useful theory may help inspire managers to help reduce the turnover, and turn grumpy employees into satisfied employees.  Frederick Herzberg, a behavioural scientist proposed a revolutionary theory in 1959 on employee motivation which has still its value by explaining how employers can create meaningful work for their employees. Known as the ‘two-factor theory’ – this study explains the factors that lead to job satisfaction or dissatisfaction. According to Herzberg, ‘Satisfaction’ and ‘Dissatisfaction’ in the workplace are not opposite to each other. There are some job factors that result in satisfaction while there are some other factors that prevent dissatisfaction. These factors are known as Hygiene factors and motivational factors. 

Two Factor Theory by Frederick Herzberg - toolshero

Source – https://www.toolshero.com/psychology/theories-of-motivation/two-factor-theory-herzberg/

Hygiene factors are extrinsic motivators. Hygiene factors which are essential for the existence of motivation at workplace. Presence of these factors do not necessarily make employees ‘super’ satisfied for the long-term. But if present, these factors will help employees to avoid dissatisfaction. Hygiene factors are further reflected through elements such as – Pay, Job Security, Fringe benefits, Physical working conditions, Status, Interpersonal relationship, Job security, and Company policies. These factors are mostly related to environmental aspects of a job. The hygiene factors symbolise the physiological needs which the individuals wants and expects to be met/fulfilled. 

Motivational factors, on the other hand, are intrinsic drivers to our job satisfaction. They are different to hygiene factors and inherent to work. Motivational factors cannot be regarded as motivators – rather, they fulfil the psychological need. Presence of motivational factors help employees to become supercharged and multiply their performance. Employees find these factors intrinsically rewarding. These factors include – meaningful work, growth and career progression opportunities, recognition, peer-support, delegation, achievement. 

Although Two-Factor Theory has been criticised for its general assumption that satisfied workers have greater productivity, what’s the practical value of Herzberg’s two-factor theory? Here are some ‘nuggets’ from the theory for managers who want to turn their grumpy employees (who may be not dissatisfied) into satisfied employees – 

Creating meaningful job – 

Every job has (a) meaning to the person doing it! Whether it’s a Data Scientist, a Clerk or a Janitor. Everyone’s work is important. But our social lenses have created levels of marginalisation, with classifications- white collar, blue collar etc. While the importance of formal education, leading towards the creation of knowledge worker is still present, other professions in society are equally important. It is the manager’s job to ensure they help their employees to find the meaning into their jobs regardless of job nature, salary and industry. (You may have heard the famous story of a janitor from Nasa. During his visit to the NASA space centre in 1962, President John F. Kennedy noticed a janitor carrying a broom. He walked over to the man and said, What function do you play in this organisation? The janitor proudly responded saying, “I’m helping put a man on the moon.”)

Get the best version of the individual –

Employees feel stimulated (motivated) when they can utilise their ‘best version’, regardless of the job. Managers can help staff facilitate this process; through understanding their strengths and weaknesses and then help staff to improve their performance incrementally over time. Creating regular professional development opportunities both on and off the job can yield good result in this regard.  

Recognition and reward –

Herzberg’s theory suggests that people value intrinsic reward more than extrinsic reward when it comes to creating satisfaction in (and into) their work. Therefore, managers need to develop an environment which is constantly encouraging and enabling, where everyone’s performance will be recognised, no matter how trivial. 

Job enrichment – 

Job enrichment is a widely discussed management topic and strives to explore how jobs can be made meaningful so that employees always feel ‘super-charged’ and be motivated. Herzberg suggested (to recap) several ways for managers to help and enrich jobs for their employees – such as – greater scope for personal achievement, more challenging and responsible work and more opportunity for individual advancement and growth.

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