My childhood friend, Gavin Woody, runs ultra-marathons and climbs mountains. I’m not exactly sure why other than he likely has a tremendous amount of energy and an amazing well of stamina from which to draw. He regularly posts breathtaking, awe-inspiring, majestic top-of-mountain photos, sans filter. I am sure reaching the summit of any climb or hike is a feat of endurance, strength and pride. I can only imagine that reaching the top of a mountain is much more satisfying than remaining in the valley. This is where installment two of the motivation series brings us–to the top of the mountain.
In installment one I presented Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and presented an argument to view motivation as meeting high-level needs and keeping in mind that motivation is essentially voluntary. Frederick Herzberg furthers the argument on employee motivation. His 1968 publication in the Harvard Business Review entitled, One More Time, How Do You Motivation Employees? is one of the most requested articles of all time. By 1987 it had over 1 million reprint requests (because downloads weren’t a thing). The way I read the title of his article is with haughty derision, a sigh at the beginning and an eye roll at the end. As if to say, come on, people. Haven’t we already covered this?
Herzberg’s biography is fascinating. Born in 1923 to Jewish immigrants, his enlistment in the Army during WWII significantly impacted his academic research after returning from overseas where he was one of the first liberators to enter the Dachau concentration camp. His assignment included providing health care for inmates who survived the Holocaust. I have read accounts of Herzberg, as he witnessed people surviving during one of the most heinous acts of terrorism, wondering what motivated people to survive. When people had nothing–not even basic hygiene and psychological factors (re: Maslow)–how and why did they keep going?
During his career, Herzberg put forth a theory he called the Two-Factor Theory.
Herzberg posited that there were two types of factors: hygiene and motivating. Hygiene factors contribute to dissatisfaction, but not satisfaction. When employers meet the needs of employees that are considered basic or “hygienic” they are merely doing as expected. We expect company policies that are fair and provide a stable working environment. We expect compensation that meets our basic needs. We rely on decency and teamwork in our relationships with supervisors and co-workers. Finally, we expect satisfactory working conditions. If this list is in force, we are merely ok and not necessarily happy. However, if company policies are unfair, our salary does not pay for our basic needs, working conditions are unbearable and no one gets along at work, then employees are dissatisfied.
Herzberg’s point is this: using hygiene factors to motivate employees is futile. Maslow had the same argument in that employee motivation should exist in the use of higher-order motivators. In other words, expecting employees to be motivated any longer than it takes to grab a soda from the vending machine requires the use of top-of-the-pyramid motivators, not basic needs. The motivating effects of $1 more an hour is short-lived. Consider this rendering that depicts Herzberg’s hygiene factors as equal to Maslow’s lower-order needs.
Instead, employers need to meet the basic needs of employees in order to keep them satisfied AND realize that higher-order motivators should be used to increase productivity, engender loyalty and lower turnover.
What Herzberg realized while he watched Jewish prisoners be liberated from Dachau, I think, is that people are motivated at their very core by hope. The hope of a better life, of a better career, of being seen and heard, and of being important. Maslow’s growth and esteem needs and Herzberg’s motivating factors (achievement, interesting work, recognition, responsibility, advancement) are indicators of a life beyond the one you currently possess. A career that offers to take you beyond what you’d ever imagined is one hell of a motivator toward success.
Employers and bosses who see an employee as a whole person instead of merely a cog in the company machine are tapping into one’s humanity. Just as Herzberg saw prisoners as people with a tremendous will to live, employers will do well to see their employees as their greatest undeveloped asset. As my friend Gavin can probably tell you, there’s a better view at the top of the mountain than from the valley.
Herzberg, F. (1987). One more time: How do you motivate employees? Harvard Business Review, 65(5).