November 15, 2023
January 25, 2022

Why This Obscure Satisfaction Theory Matters to Your Company

This is some text inside of a div block.
Get Started with Awardco
Get a Demo

Do you just love your job? Would you rate your job satisfaction level as through the roof...or just sort of okay? In short, are you engaged in your work? If you are, congratulations are in order; you are happier than nearly 70% of all American workers!

Think about that for a second. 70% of American workers report being unengaged in their work. While everyone has bad days or bad periods, the goal is to enjoy your work and be engaged the majority of the time. Why are American workers failing in this respect? Gallup polls show that employee engagement has stayed at roughly 30% for the last few years. How did we as a society get to this point? A man named Frederick Herzberg answered that question back in 1977 with his Motivation-Hygiene Theory, but it was lost on most people at the time. Most companies then, as now, tend to use outdated practices for employee engagement.

The companies that outperform their competitors are applying this theory, even if they’ve never heard of it. In the same way a bird that has no idea what Bernoulli’s Equation has to do with flight (the bird doesn't do complex math equations—it just flies), many successful organizations today implement these principles without even knowing it. Whether you’re an employer or an employee, Herzberg’s theory can give you the secret formula to the success in the workplace.


Academic Scientist Marvels At Blue Chemical Reaction Near Chalkboard

"Why did it turn blue?"

So what is Herzberg’s Two-Factor theory, you may ask? This theory posits that there are separate factors in the workplace that contribute to employee satisfaction and dissatisfaction.

In the workplace, “satisfaction and dissatisfaction are not on a continuum with one increasing as the other diminishes, but are independent phenomena.” This means that “to improve job attitudes and productivity, administrators must recognize and attend to both sets of characteristics and not assume that an increase in satisfaction leads to decrease in dissatisfaction” (1).

This might explain why Chad, the top performer in sales, is so grumpy all the time. His satisfaction AND dissatisfaction are both high. How is this possible? Because the two are not as connected as we might think, and though Chad is satisfied with his job performance he may not be satisfied with his job. Compare him to Doris, the happy accountant (who gives you a piece of candy and a smile every time you go to her office), whose satisfaction is high like Chad’s, but whose dissatisfaction is low. See the difference?

Herzberg breaks the underlying factors of both satisfaction and dissatisfaction down to motivation and hygiene. Hygiene in this sense isn't about washing hands and brushing teeth—it's about making sure things are taken care of in a more general sense in the workplace. Hygiene refers to things like job security, status, bonuses, rewards, work conditions, good pay, paid insurance, and vacations. Motivation refers to things such as feeling challenged by important work, being recognized, a sense of belonging in the organization, responsibility in decision making,  (1).

Things that provide hygiene and motivation aren’t necessarily deal-breakers if they’re not present, but they can greatly affect performance and happiness in the workplace. 

Instead of thinking about satisfaction and dissatisfaction as a related entity, try to think of each one as having its own influence. At one time both could be high, both could be low, or they could be any combination of the two, but they aren't necessarily related as closely as we might like to believe.


Business Man Holds Face of Him Smiling and Face of Him Frowning


So what combinations can you get with hygiene and motivation? When the extremes are represented, there are four possible outcomes (2).

  1. High Hygiene + High Motivation: The ideal situation where employees are highly motivated and have few complaints.
  3. High Hygiene + Low Motivation: Employees have few complaints but are not highly motivated. The job is viewed as a paycheck.
  5. Low Hygiene + High Motivation: Employees are motivated but have a lot of complaints. A situation where the job is exciting and challenging but salaries and work conditions are not up to par.
  7. Low Hygiene + Low Motivation: This is the worst situation where employees are not motivated and have many complaints (2).

The question then becomes “how do the employees in my organization rate on this scale?” Chances are good that you know someone in each category. 

To test his theory, Herzberg ran some “job enrichment” experiments that focused on raising motivation and hygiene. The results were astounding.

One of these experiments was conducted at Hill Air Force Base in the 1970s. The base reported “a $1.75 million ($6.9 million, adjusted for inflation) savings in 2 years on 29 projects . . . accrued from reduced sick leave, a lower rate of personnel turnover, less overtime and rework, a reduction in man-hours, and material savings” (3).

Job satisfaction also increased dramatically:

Source: Organizational Behavior 1: Essential Theories of Motivation and Leadership. pg 68

Basically, everything that’s important to a company improved. You can read more about the theory, experiments, and outcomes in chapter five of this book.

Chances are quite good that applying Herzberg’s Two-Factor theory in your workplace will have similar results. At Awardco we are helping our clients create employee recognition programs that raise both motivation and hygiene in the workplace. Our goal is to make it easy for you to integrate these best practices and programs into your organization, and we've seen great success in many industries.

So the next time you brush your teeth and take care of your own hygiene, think about the metaphorical hygiene of your workplace. If it needs a little attention, contact us and we'll put on our gloves and jump right in to help you clean things up. It's what we do best—make employee recognition (and thereby workplace hygiene and motivation) shine and sparkle!