Enjoying Your Work
Richard Brislin

Monday, June 20, 2005

Wages are central
to job satisfaction

When Frederick Herzberg developed the two-factor theory of motivation during the 1960s, his innovative suggestion was that a certain set of workplace factors prevents people from becoming dissatisfied with their work. Another set of factors contributes to people being satisfied with their jobs.

Imagine a point in the middle of a rating scale that corresponds to feelings summarized by sentiments such as "I don't care one way or the other about my work."

On the left end of the scale, the phrase "I am dissatisfied with my work" can be found. On the right side, people can read the phrase, "I am satisfied with my work."

According to Herzberg, one set of factors keeps people at the center point and prevents them from being dissatisfied. These factors are extrinsic to people's actual workplace contributions, education, training and skills that they bring to career development. These factors include quality of supervision, company policies and physical working conditions.

Another set of factors moves people from the center to job satisfaction. These factors are intrinsic to people's workplace contributions and are related to their personal identities as productive and respected employees. These factors include promotion opportunities, recognition for the performance of good work and achievement.

So where does money fit into this picture? In Herzberg's original formulation, pay prevented people from becoming dissatisfied but did not move people from the center point to actual job satisfaction.

More recent research has given money a much more prominent place.

Current arguments are that people's feelings about their pay both prevent the negative feelings of dissatisfaction and contribute greatly to the positive feelings that accompany workplace satisfaction. In fact, if employers can give attention to only one workplace issue, assuring good compensation for the most productive workers is the most powerful step that they can take in their pursuit of organizational success.

Why has the role of workplace salaries changed from preventer of dissatisfaction to a much more central role in the analysis of workplace motivation and employee growth? One reason is the world economy has changed over the past 50 years. In the past, families could support themselves with the work of one wage earner.

During my childhood, for example, my father worked and my mother stayed home and raised four children until we reached our teen years. The family did not live luxuriously, but the children had access to the basic contributors to youthful happiness. But now, most families need two or more wage earners to make ends meet. The lack of enough money at the end of the month contributes to stress when bills cannot be paid and when additional borrowing is necessary. With extra money, on the other hand, people can afford the pursuit of activities that add meaning to life and that offer pleasure. These pursuits can include music, athletics, spiritual activities as people become active in churches and community service. If people have to hold down two and three jobs, as is common in Hawaii, they have no time for these enriching activities.

Another reason for past neglect of pay as a motivation is that many researchers felt that the study of wages and salaries was crass.

They asked, "Aren't there more important motivating factors that can contribute to people's feelings of transcendence and self-actualization?" Given that people can't seek self-actualizing experiences unless they can pay their bills, current researchers in the workplace are paying more attention to equitable compensation.

These researchers sometimes quote Albert Camus: "It's a kind of spiritual snobbery that makes people think they can be happy without money."

See the Columnists section for some past articles.

The purpose of this column is to increase understanding of human behavior as it has an impact on the workplace. Given the amount of time people spend at work, job satisfaction should ideally be high and it should contribute to general life happiness. Enjoyment can increase as people learn more about workplace psychology, communication, and group influences.

Richard Brislin is a professor in the College of Business Administration, University of Hawaii. He can be reached through the College Relations Office: cro@cba.hawaii.edu

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