A review of “One More Time: How Do You Motivate Employees”, by Frederick Herzberg

This is the second article in the volume “On Managing People” in Harvard Business Review’s collection of Must Reads.

Frederick Herzberg

This article was originally published in 1968.  Herzberg begins by examining the classic Kick In The Ass (KITA) as motivator.  Both physical, and psychological KITAs are examined, and of the latter he notes “since the number of psychological pains that a person can feel is almost infinite, the direction and site possibilities of the KITA are increased many times.”  I like him already.

Herzberg then spends several pages sarcastically outlining practices which have failed to increase motivation.  Frankly these are mostly straw-men, such as sensitivity training and employee counseling.  I’m 9 pages into this article when finally something interesting shows up:

The factors involved in producing job satisfction (and motication) are separate and distinct from the factors that lead to job dissatisfaction … it follows that these two feelings are not opposites of each other.  The opposite of job satisfaction is not job dissatisfaction but, rather, no job satisfaction; and similarly the opposite of job dissatisfaction is not job satisfaction, but no job dissatisfaction.

Herzberg is articulating a theory here, that job satisfaction and dissatisfaction are not opposite ends on a single axis, but rather there are two separate axes.  He identifies the factors involved in each axis (he labels them Hygiene Factors and Motivator Factors).

Dissatisfaction Factors (Hygiene Factors)

  • Company policies and administration
  • Supervision
  • Interpersonal relationships
  • Working conditions
  • Salary
  • Status
  • Security

Satisfaction Factors (Motivator Factors)

  • Achievement
  • Recognition for achievement
  • The work itself
  • Responsibility
  • Growth
  • Advancement

Job Enrichment

Herzberg’s framework for improving motivation he calls job enrichment.  He warns against a horizontal perspective (giving people more work, or more kinds of un-motivating work) and encourages a vertical perspective (more end-to-end ownership of an area).

He identifies 7 principles of vertical job enrichment (and the corresponding motivator factors).

  1. Removing controls while retaining accountability (responsibility and personal achievement)
  2. Increasing the accountability of individuals for own work (responsibility and recognition)
  3. Giving a person a complete natural unit of work (responsibility, achievement, and recognition)
  4. Granting additional authority to employees in their activity / job freedom (responsibility, achievement, and recognition)
  5. Making periodic reports directly available to the workers themselves rather than to supervisors (internal recognition)
  6. Introducing new and more difficult tasks not previously handled (growth and learning)
  7. Assigning individuals specific or specialized tasks, enabling them to become experts (responsibility, growth and advancement)

He gives some specific examples of a large corporation applying these principles to the role of shareholder correspondent, for example:

  • Have the correspondents sign their own name on letters (supervisor had been signing)
  • Have supervisor only example a sample of the letters (previously supervisor checked them all)

Herberg also supplies a step-by-step process to use when applying these principles.  These steps include:

  1. Have the conviction that these jobs can be enriched
  2. Avoid direct participation in this process of the employees themselves.  Their direct involvement contaminates the process with human relations hygiene.  It is the actual changes that will be motivating, not the fact that they got to participate in the process. 
  3. Brainstorm a list of changes that may enrich the job
  4. Screen out suggestions that involve hygiene, rather than motivation.
  5. Screen out suggestions that are too general (e.g. “more responsibility”)
  6. Screen out any horizontal suggestions.
  7. Set up a controlled experiment (if you can).  Measure job attitudes and performance before and after, for the test group and the control group.
  8. Be prepared for a drop in performance in the experimental group the first few weeks – the changes may lead to a temporary reduction in efficiency.
  9. Be prepared for some management anxiety.  Managers may fear lower performance (and they may see it temporarily).

Herzberg concludes by encouraging leaders to recognize these two separate axis (hygiene and motivation), and to focus on motivation by applying the job enrichment process.

After reading this article I did a little googling on Herzberg and discovered that he wrote a book in 1959 called The Motivation To Work, which outlines his motivator-hygiene theory (also popularly known as Herzberg’s Two-Factor Theory), and is generally recognized as the seminal work in employee motivation.  I also discovered that this article is one of the most popular Harvard Business Review articles ever, based on re-print requests and sales.

As I was reading this I couldn’t help but compare the ideas in this article with the ideas in Daniel Pink’s Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. Pink’s motivational factors (Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose) are pretty similar to Herzberg’s.  It’s been a while since I read Pink’s book, perhaps it’s time to pull it from the shelf for a re-read and a comparison review.

Since I was already aware of Pink’s exposition on motivation, Herzberg’s motivational factors are not a big surprise.  But it’s always helpful to return to good ideas after a period of time to reflect upon them again.  And I think a round of the job enrichment process certainly wont hurt.

About brendansterne

Sr Director, Indeed.com Product Incubator
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