Decoding Why You Hate Your Job with Hygiene Factors

Renowned psychologist, Frederick Herzberg, proposed a theory to explain different work environments as well as job satisfaction and dissatisfaction.  His theory is called “two-factor theory” and asserts that there are specific factors which predominantly create job satisfaction (called motivational factors) while a completely different set of factors (called hygiene factors) mainly create job dissatisfaction.  One of the key takeaways from this theory is that compensation is not a motivator to work harder– it is an incentive to do minimum work required to collect a paycheck.  Conversely, uncompetitive compensation will inevitably lead to job dissatisfaction.  Let’s discuss the various factors and how they relate to your job satisfaction or dissatisfaction.

The Motivators

Herzberg stated that motivating factors are linked to the nature of a specific job, and not the secondary conditions which contextualize the job.   Motivating factors, unlike hygiene factors, can alone create job satisfaction and include:

  • Achievement
  • Recognition
  • Responsibility
  • Nature of work
  • Advancement opportunities
  • Personal growth

A job scoring high in each of these factors would be considered fulfilling, meaningful, and full of growth opportunities.  Many jobs that score high in these categories are “blue ocean” type jobs, meaning that you will have significant responsibility and opportunities to create positive differences for both yourself and your employer.

The types of positions which score low in these categories have little opportunity for growth.  A common type of position scoring low in motivating factors is one with a family business when you’re not part of the family.  I have heard all too many times of people who have made significant contributions to a company’s success but get passed over routinely for promotions or opportunities for ownership because they do not share the family’s DNA.  Other types of jobs which do not create motivation are ones which the employee is underemployed, meaning the employee is underutilized and often completing menial tasks.  A hypothetical example of underemployment could be a credentialed brain surgeon corralling shopping carts for a living.

The Demotivators

Factors which do not create job satisfaction, but can alone create job dissatisfaction, are called “hygiene factors.”  Hygiene factors contextualize the client’s work environment – they have little to do with the nature of your work itself.  Below are Herzberg’s hygiene factors, with my minor descriptive edits.

  • Company policies
  • Supervision/degree of perceived micromanagement
  • Working conditions
  • Compensation
  • Intra-company relationships
  • Job security

What you should immediately notice is that lots of people can have a meaningful job within their field, but still hate their job because they have a poor relationship with their boss and/or their compensation is not competitive.  Similarly, many people will not leave a “dead-end job” if there are no major hygiene factors contributing to job dissatisfaction.  They may simply show up to work and put forth the minimum effort to keep their job, but that’s it.

Sidebar:  Linking to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Let’s take a look at how Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs relates to our personal fulfillment. 

Take note that all of the motivating factors within Herzberg’s theory fall into the upper portion of Maslow’s Hierarchy.  Achievement, recognition, responsibility, advancement, and personal growth all have to do with esteem and self-actualization.  Conversely, the hygiene factors, especially working conditions, compensation, and job security, relate to Maslow’s lower-level needs, such as safety and physiological needs (food, shelter, and other things which cost money).  Since higher level needs are often abandoned to fulfill lower-level needs, hygiene factors carry more weight in determining whether somebody likes their job overall.  Therefore, an underpaid and overworked employee, even if their work is meaningful and filled with growth opportunities, will most likely dislike their job overall.

Finding Your Factors – Is Your Problem a Lack of Satisfaction or Too Much Dissatisfaction?

Armed with your newfound knowledge, you should take a moment to identify which factors contribute to your job satisfaction and dissatisfaction.  For instance, I scored my last job highly in most of the motivational factors.  At the same time, I felt overworked and chafed with my supervisors.  The negative hygiene factors, as expected, outweighed the positive motivational factors when I chose to resign.

Change Your Factors for the Better

When you have identified your factors, you can work on them.  For instance, if you feel undercompensated, discuss with your boss what you would need to accomplish to get a raise.  If you feel your work is not meaningful, consider taking a lead in company initiatives where you can feel more control in shaping your own future.

Of course, there needs to be a cost-benefit analysis on the degree of effort you are putting into improving your job.  If your job scores poorly in all motivators as well as all hygiene factors, you perceive your job as both unfulfilling and your work environment as unsatisfactory.  It’s going to be difficult, and maybe impossible, to fix all of that.  If that’s the case, you may be better off seeking a new position at a different company with a better culture and policies.

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