10 Lessons from Herzberg’s Research on Motivating Employees

“If you want someone to do a good job, give them a good job to do.” (Dr. Frederick Herzberg)

Having a workforce that is motivated, not just satisfied, remains one of the most elusive challenges in business. According to Dr. Herzberg, what motivates people is the work itself.  If the work is meaningful, if there are opportunities for learning, if a person can earn recognition and advancement, then employees will be motivated to consistently bring their full abilities to their work.

 This is a somewhat radical idea for employers who think, “it’s all about money.”  The truth about motivation is that it is not either money OR meaningful work but rather money AND meaningful work that are required to maximize motivation and effort among the workforce. 

business workers shaking hands

Back in the 1950s, Dr. Herzberg believed that productivity in America was receding because of a focus on money and benefits to the exclusion of providing opportunity for responsibility and continuous learning.  When workers get money without responsibility, their entitlement quotient goes up and their productivity quotient goes down.  When workers are given responsibility without money, they become resentful and less productive.  The most productive employees, according to Herzberg, are the ones who are continually challenged as well as compensated fairly.

10 Tips to Create a Motivated Workforce

Clearly, every employer wants to have a motivated workforce. Below are ten lessons to take from Dr. Herzberg’s research to help you cultivate a motivated workforce, all of which are still highly relevant today.

  1. Motivation occurs when an employee acts to achieve without either reward or punishment; i.e., the person wants to do it.
  2. Research shows that 80% of the factors in satisfying job events comes from the motivators (the intrinsic elements of the job): achievement, recognition for achievement, the work itself, responsibility, advancement and growth.

    Only about 20% of the satisfying job events involve hygiene factors (the extrinsic elements of the job): company policy and administration, supervision, relationships with coworkers, working conditions, salary and job security.
  3. The results of getting employee hygiene factors correct are only temporary.
  4. Job insecurity undermines motivation at all levels.
  5. It is important to remember that people are individuals and are motivated in different ways.
  6. Employees are more motivated when they perceive their work as serving a meaningful purpose. Help your employees find meaning in their work. Remember, what is meaningful to you, may not be meaningful to them.
  7. To be a motivator, advancement need not be immediate.  Advancement can be a motivator if employees believe that advancement is possible.  Honesty about advancement, however, is always the best policy.
  8. Recognition for good work is as important as rewarding it.
  9. Reinforce accomplishment rather than careerism and job status.
  10. Employees are motivated by their own inherent need to succeed at challenging tasks.

business meeting

The PSP studies on work motivation by Herzberg make one thing clear – a manager’s job is NOT to motivate people to get them to achieve.  Instead, the manager’s job is to provide opportunities for people to achieve so they will be motivated.

At PSP Metrics, we deploy custom talent development strategies tailored to your business to help employees grow as leaders & prepare them for career advancement. Get started here and explore our workforce solutions today!

PSP Metrics has been at the forefront of science-backed employee assessments and measurement systems for over 75 years. Our mission has always been to help give you a competitive business advantage through your company’s most valuable resource — your people.

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Dr. Ken Graham

Dr. Ken Graham is a Principal Psychologist at PSP Metrics. He has extensive experience in talent management, developing high-performing executives and teams, and creating cutting-edge selection systems, executive assessments, and organizational design practices. Dr. Graham can be contacted at kgraham@pspmetrics.com or via LinkedIn.

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