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Are happy employees motivated employees?

Are Happy Employees Motivated Employees?


Copyright © 2006  Bob Selden
Used with permission of the author:
Author: Bob Selden
Managing Director
The National Learning Institute
10 April 2006

When was the last time you felt excited, motivated and extremely keen to be at work? Chances are it was when you had a job or project that really interested you, you had control over what you did and the way you did it, and you did not have any worries about “over zealous boss” interference or lack of job security. It’s a great feeling.

I have issued a challenge to managers over the last 20 years in management development forums to think back to when they were most motivated at work and identify the reasons why. Then, set about implementing these same conditions for their own people. (Draw up your own list now and see how it compares.)

Invariably, the “motivational conditions” they identify are:

  • autonomy– the chance to take control over a complete project or unit of work in which one is really interested;
  • responsibility– for setting goals and targets and being accountable for achieving them;
  • recognition– for achieving meaningful results; and
  • development– of skills, knowledge and capabilities to their full potential.

I then ask them to identify the things that really irritate and annoy them and (often) change what could have been a motivating workplace into a place of drudgery. They are:

  • bosses who do not recognise them for their efforts; or worse still, take the credit themselves;
  • a lack of feeling of “team”, i.e., “we are in this together”;
  • constant implied or implicit threats of demotion or dismissal;
  • insufficient salary(by comparison to others in the firm or in the industry).

If these sound familiar, then you are right!  Frederick Herzberg in his classic HBR article “Once More, How do you Motivate Employees?” (see Harvard Business Review, harvardbusinessonline www.hbsp.harvard.edu) came up with two similar sets of lists nearly forty years ago that he labelled “Motivators” and “Satisfiers”. 

Do they hold true today? Recent research into the turnover rates for young employees (20 to 30 year olds) shows that in some industries, the turnover rate of young employees is as high as 25% annually due to lack of perceived career development and training, and limited opportunities for involvement in other areas of the firm and their profession. These younger people, by comparison to their predecessors:

  • are more opportunistic in taking new jobs;.
  • are more mobile;
  • have greater expectations; and/or
  • are easily bored.

Andrew Heathcote (http://www.newcastle.edu.au/school/psychology/our_staff/heathcote_andrew.html) in answer to this challenge suggests that managers need to:


  • Be honest during interviews
  • Be serious about performance reviews.
  • Do more career mapping.
  • Create a forum to developa greater spirit of involvement.

Tailor the workplace:

  • Provide more job rotation.
  • Arrange more rotation between offices.
  • Develop specific training.
  • Introduce variety.
  • Develop forums for social interaction.

Be flexible:

  • Consider providing sabbaticals (so they can take prolonged leave without resigning).
  • Increasethe availability of unpaid leave.

In view of that, today’s younger employee is not so different from the generation who manage them – maybe they want their motivation and satisfaction a little faster!

Notice that the majority of items on Andrew’s list are what Herzberg called “Motivators”. In fact the only two that could be termed real “Satisfiers” are the last two – sabbaticals and unpaid leave.

But, to return to my initial question, does motivation equate with happiness? Richard Layard (www.pfd.co.uk/clients/layardr/b-aut.html) suggests that work plays a very important part in our happiness and that a lot of our happiness actually comes from the work we do. And the job that we do is affected by how we are allowed to do it. 

In addition, he found that in regard to the “Satisfiers”:

  • not having a job when you should have one, is much worse than suffering a sudden drop in income, and
  • people who feel insecure about retaining their job, suffer a loss of happiness (relative to those who do feel secure) that is 50% greater than the loss of happiness suffered by people whose income drops by a third.

Andrew Oswald of the University of Warwick (http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/economics/staff/faculty/oswald/indexold1/) confirms some of the importance of the “Satisfiers”.

  • Having job security is important to feeling a high degree of satisfaction with your job.
  • People with relatively high incomes or university degrees tend to get more satisfaction.
  • Womentend to be more satisfied than men.
  • The self-employed tend to be more satisfied.
  • People who work in a small workplace tend to be more satisfied than those who work for large employers.
  • Working at hometends to lead to higher satisfaction.
  • A job that involves dealing with people tends to bring higher satisfaction.

Today’s research confirms Herzberg’s contention that it is important for managers to concentrate on both the “Motivators” and the “Satisfiers” if one is to have happy and motivated employees. The message?  Managers, revisit your own list of “Motivators” Start working on implementing the items on that list of yours with your employees today.

If you would like to find out how motivated and satisfied your people are, you can do so with a simple feedback profile such as CHECKpoint (www.nationallearning.com.au/index_files/EmployeeFeedbackandMotivation.htm). CHECKpoint™ has been developed on the work of Herzberg and another great social psychologist, D.C. McLelland.  It not only provides feedback on employee motivation and satisfaction, but also how to maintain these and address any problematic issues. 

Bob Selden is the Managing Director of the National Learning Institute. He has been an HRD consultant for over 30 years, prior to which he was a line manager in a financial organisation.  He is an Australian currently living in Switzerland and is a part-time member of faculty at the International Management Development Institute in Lausanne and the Australian Graduate School of Management in Sydney . You can contact Bob at http://www.nationallearning.com.au/                 

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Gary Watkins

Gary Watkins

Managing Director


C: +27 (0)82 416 7712

T: +27 (0)10 035 4185 (Office)

F: +27 (0)86 689 7862

Website: www.workinfo.com
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