Why Employees Stay – or Not Reply

By Chris Simmons

In his work on “Motivation Theory,” psychologist Frederick Herzberg discovered that certain job factors satisfy employees, while others are intended solely to keep them from becoming disgruntled.

The Motivators (or “health factors”) focus on job satisfaction. They can drive productivity; provide a stimulating workplace, and real job satisfaction. These factors include recognition, achievement, responsibility, advancement, growth, control, and most importantly – the work itself. Motivators are always linked to the individual’s needs.

Maintenance (or “hygiene factors”) focus on preventing job dissatisfaction. These are the topics that – if they are missing or perceived as unfair – will displease employees. They include administrative policies and practices, supervision, working conditions, status, interpersonal relationships, salary and associated compensation, and job security. Maintenance factors are always linked to the organization’s needs.

The presence of adequate Maintenance factors alone will never be enough to motivate employees to perform excellent work. However, these factors must be present to allow the opportunity for excellent work. As such, Maintenance factors can be seen as environmental or preventative, as they produce no increase in work output, but can strongly limit performance if they are absent or viewed negatively by staff.

Herzberg insists that Motivators and Maintenance factors are not mutually exclusive. For example, in the past, nursing and teaching were examples of jobs with poor Maintenance factors (e.g., low pay, low status, poor working conditions) coupled with strong Motivators (i.e., very important work, high achievement, responsibility). Fortunately, the Maintenance factors for these fields have risen markedly over the years.

Curiously, Herzberg also found that once an individual’s maintainers (i.e., needs) are met, further increases (even doubling or tripling) result in no performance increases.