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Employee Motivation

We received the following question:
My name is [omitted] and I am an HR generalist. This is my first HR position and could use a little advice. We have been experiencing unusually high employee turnover. The industry I am in is known for being very labor intensive. The company, in hopes of reducing turnover, decided to increase our yearly raises by 3%. We also managed to offer flextime to our employees. We operate one shift only so as part of the flextime benefit employees needed to put in 8 hours anytime between the hours of 6:00 am and 6:00 pm 6 days a week. After one year of offering the increased pay raises and flextime our turnover has increased by 8%! Are results like this common? Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated and I would also like to invite you to visit our company within the next few months.

Anonymous Submission December, 2005 : Posted with consent

It does seem amazing that employees often show a negative response to improving benefits but it is not uncommon. Research has shown that money only improves morale for a short time; typically a few months, after which time employees are again dissatisfied. Flextime is a nice benefit but you must also consider the percentage of employees that take advantage of it. Not all employees are interested in flextime. You are better off to ask employees what types of benefits they are interested in. From their input, offer a variety of options. This way there will be something for everyone. However, this is only one small piece of the puzzle.

It is very important to first understand the difference between motivational factors and hygiene factors. This is explained by Herzberg's Motivation-Hygiene Theory1. Hygiene factors are those that, if not in order, will cause dissatisfaction but do not satisfy employees. Motivational factors are those that do lead to employee satisfaction but only if hygiene factors are in order. "Table A" below more clearly outlines this theory.

Table A

Motivators Hygiene Factors
  • Achievement
  • Recognition
  • Work Itself
  • Responsibility
  • Advancement
  • Growth
  • Supervision
  • Company Policy
  • Relationship with Supervisor
  • Working Conditions
  • Relationship with Peers
  • Personal Life
  • Relationship with Subordinates
  • Status
  • Security
Extremely Satisfied Neutral Extremely Dissatisfied
← ← ← ← ← ← ← ← ← ← ←

The basic idea here is that if an employee perceives a problem with any of the hygiene factors he/she will be dissatisfied. However, even if all hygiene factors are perceived as absolutely perfect, they will not necessarily lead to job satisfaction. At best, the employee will have a neutral position regarding job satisfaction and will therefore, not be motivated. If all hygiene factors are in order you can then address motivators. "Table B" more clearly shows how hygiene and motivators are related.

Table B

Motivators Hygiene Factors
Satisfaction No Satisfaction No Dissatisfaction Dissatisfaction

Based on this proven approach, your situation (high turnover and dissatisfied employees) requires that you attempt to identify hygiene factors that are causing the dissatisfaction among your employees. There may be several problems and it may differ from one employee to the next. This is by on means a simple task. However it will be helpful to communicate clearly with your employees. Explain this theory to them and share with them that you genuinely want to make their work lives more rewarding. Correct the hygiene factors then address the motivational factors; in that exact order. And yes, if you wish, I will be glad to help your organization through this process. We do enjoy projects such as this. Improving the quality of life for the workforce is very rewarding. Feel free to contact us to make arrangements for a plant visit.  

Great question! Thank you.

Coulter, M., Robbins, S. R.A. (1998). Management, Sixth Edition. Upper Saddle River, NJ Prentice Hall

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