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What really motivates you?

Jan 1, 1995 12:00 AM


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When I lead a print production seminar for managers or first-line supervisors, I ask attendees: "List two reasons why you haven't quit your job yet." Inevitably, the answers show why some people strive to do their jobs as well as they can and others do only enough to get by.

The following answers came from most managers and supervisors:

"I enjoy the work."

"I like to be challenged and then rise to the occasion."

"I'm learning new things."

"I feel as if I've achieved something at the end of most days."

"I'm given a lot of responsibility."

"There are possibilities of promotion and career advancement."

"I like to solve problems and watch the solutions happen."

"I am free to make many of my own decisions."

These responses came from employees who are opportunities fully absorbed in their jobs. They get involved. Without thinking about it, they give their best brain power and highest energy level to their work.

Completely different responses included:

"The pay is good."

"The job is close to my home."

"The firm never lays off people who have been here a long time."

These replies came from a different type of employee - those who are not going to quit their jobs, but also will not exert themselves at work.

The responses supported, with amazing accuracy, motivation theories developed by psychologist Frederick Herzberg, in his 1959 book, "The Motivation to Work." With a team of co-workers, he conducted lengthy interviews with employees of large industrial companies in the Detroit area.

The researchers began by talking to shop floor workers, but found them to be unresponsive. They speculated that the employees were not intelligent or verbal enough (most unlikely), or were afraid to speak their minds for fear of reprisals (most likely). Then, the team moved on to engineers.

As a result of the interviews, the researchers created the concept of job dissatisfiers and job satisfiers. Dissatisfiers have the same effect as health hazards, such as lack of garbage collection, impure water or polluted air - they may cause workers to leave.

If poor conditions are corrected, most employees will not quit, but this does not guarantee they will become better workers. The most often cited dissatisfiers include poor company policy and administration, poor supervision, low or unfair salary, poor working conditions, inadequate job benefits and lack of job security.

Herzberg and his team discovered a number of satisfiers that are true motivators and lead to improved job performance: a sense of achievement, recognition, creative or challenging work, responsibility, advancement opportunities and the possibility to develop and grow as a person.

Giving workers a hefty raise usually does not produce long-term effects. Employees perk up for a while, but then develop the feeling they are finally earning what they should have been paid long ago. According to Herzberg, money is an ineffective satisfier because it does not lead to a desire to do a better job. However, lack of money is a very effective dissatisfier since low or unfair pay causes people to quit.

To motivate people, it is necessary to supply one or more of Herzberg's satisfiers. For example, interesting work is one major satisfier. People devote many hours of concerted effort into hobbies such as basket weaving, constructing model ships or taking and developing photographs.

How does this type of work compare to standing at the back end of a folding machine and scooping one batch after another of folded sheets all day long? Or how about loading sheets into the front end of a press for an entire day? For those doing this type of work, it makes sense to conserve energy during the day so they can enjoy doing what they like in the evening.

The most effective way to motivate more people is to make job satisfiers available to the entire workforce. Management should find ways to make work more interesting and challenging, not just for managers and supervisors, but for everyone. In addition, we should act with the knowledge that most people want to achieve, be recognized, feel important and grow as people.

DON MERIT is a production management and estimating consultant based in New York City