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How to Truly Motivate Employees

Updated on October 2, 2014

Motivation is the unique human ability to experience psychological growth from our achievements, and the hidden force within that causes us to take action.

Why Is Motivation Important?

When workers are truly motivated, their own internal generators take over and they want to do the work. Many will seek more hours at work and less outside stimulation. Turnover decreases and productivity increases. As a manager, this is what you want, right?

Herzberg’s “Two-Factor Theory” is one of the best management tools I have ever discovered, so lets discuss it here today.

The Two-Factor Theory of Motivation

Also called the “Motivation–Hygiene Theory, Herzberg, a clinical psychologist, published it in his book: “The Motivation to Work” in 1959. His conclusions were based on extensive research in the field of job attitudes, first conducted with engineers and accountants and then substantiated by 16+ other studies among a wide variety of populations.

Stay with me here. Herzberg identified two distinctly different sets of factors in the workplace. One set (motivational factors) leads to employee satisfaction and motivation. The other set (hygiene factors) leads to dissatisfaction and unhappiness.

Motivational Factors

Herzberg found that factors leading to employee satisfaction and motivation relate exclusively to the job itself—the work a person is doing. Primary motivational factors are job achievement, recognition for achievements, type of work (interesting and challenging), and job responsibility, advancement and growth. When these factors are present in a job, the worker is likely to be satisfied and motivated. Output increases while turnover and absenteeism decrease.

Hygiene Factors

Primary hygiene factors that can lead to dissatisfaction and unhappiness are company policies and administration, relationship with supervisor, salary, and other benefits. Note that these hygiene factors relate to the work environment and not to the job itself. While it is important to identify and correct major hygiene problems to eliminate dissatisfaction, correcting them will not motivate your workers.

Management Confusion

Managers who don’t understand the difference between motivational and hygiene factors often try to motivate workers by manipulating hygiene factors- work hours, days off, salary, bonuses, or other benefits. But this doesn’t work because motivation only comes from the work a person is doing- the job itself.

It’s hard for some managers to accept that the benefits and perks they spend so much time and money on do not motivate their employees. Yes, a salary far below what others are making at a similar job in similar companies will cause dissatisfaction and unhappiness. And if you make it fair and equitable the dissatisfaction will go away- but motivation does not increase. Money means little if you hate your job.

Remember, motivation of your employees comes from the jobs you give them to do and the psychological benefits they derive from their achievements while doing that job, and from the subsequent recognition you give them. It does not come from environmental (hygiene) factors, like salary, parking spot, free lunch, more vacation, or other benefits unrelated to the work itself.

The Bottom Line

Spend less time identifying and correcting hygiene problems, and more time creating important, challenging jobs for your workers that provide plenty of responsibility, autonomy, and opportunities to achieve. Then find those achievements and recognize them publicly and privately. This is the path to real employee motivation.

Steven R. Smith is the author of Managing for Success: Practical Advice for Managers, a concise,150-page guide to help managers and supervisors succeed. It is based on the author’s 42 years of industry experience at 15 different companies. For more information on this book go to: http://www.Successfulmanaging.com.

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