Satisfaction in the Workplace – The Bucket and the Basket

Ask a business owner what would motivate his unhappy employees and most will answer “More money!” Unless his people are genuinely underpaid, he’s wrong.

Frederick Herzberg’s studies on mental health in business are a sort of practical application of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (which, by the way, isn’t really hierarchical.) Often called The Two Factor Theory, Herzberg’s Motivation-Hygiene Theory shows that, as expected, there are things in our work which make us happy, and things which make us unhappy.

What’s unexpected is that they’re not the same things.

Certain aspects of work fall into the ‘preventing dissatisfaction’ bucket. Workers need to be paid fairly. They need safe working conditions and reasonable hours. If these needs aren’t met, workers will be unhappy.

Which is very different from saying that if they are met, workers will be happy.

Other aspects of work fall into the ‘creating satisfaction’ basket. recognition, advancement, meaningful work, a sense of achievement-when these things are present, they increase happiness (which, we assume, will increase production and value; this assumption is intrinsic to Herzberg’s work.)

Which, again, is not the same as saying they decrease dissatisfaction.

The ‘preventing dissatisfaction’ bucket gets filled with water. Pay enough money, have a safe workplace, meet the basic needs, and the bucket is full. Add more water (by paying more money, for instance) and it doesn’t pile up-it overflows. Once dissatisfaction has been reduced as far as possible (hopefully, eliminated) there’s no value in trying to reduce it further.

It’s not a long scale with ‘unhappy’ at one end and ‘happy’ at the other. It’s not a zero sum game, where reducing dissatisfaction equals increasing satisfaction.

What you have is two separate containers. Once the ‘preventing dissatisfaction’ bucket is full, you can’t fill it more. But the ‘creating satisfaction’ basket-that, you can pile to the sky.

Recognition? There’s no such thing as too much. Tell every employee, every day, how much you value their loyalty and hard work. Do it sincerely. Read The Carrot Principle and put it into practice.

Achievement? How about helping every employee do as much as they can? It helps fill their satisfaction basket, and fills yours at the same time.

Keep checking the ‘prevents dissatisfaction’ bucket, ’cause sometimes it leaks. But once you’ve got it full (or if it was full to begin with, for you A+ entrepreneurs) focus on creating satisfaction for your employees and customers.

And at the same time, you’ll be creating your own.

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