“Don’t Clap, Throw Money”: Misadventures in Employee Engagement

Is your glass half empty or half full?

Vince Cyboran is a professor in the graduate program in Training and Development of Roosevelt University.

Vince Cyboran is a professor in the graduate program in Training and Development of Roosevelt University.

Having been asked this seemingly innocuous — but heavily coded — question several times over the years at employee workshops, I’ve developed a standard response: “You have a glass?” This generally stops the conversation.

At one organization in which upper management realized that low-employee morale was rampant (after three years without staff raises, hefty annual increases in health insurance contributions, etc.), an outside consultant was brought in to conduct a mandatory, full-day workshop. After a rather long self-introduction, he proceeded to walk around the room, pointing directly at random people, and pointedly asking: “What could you being do better?” We then formed small groups to make lists of ways in which each of us—through personal improvement (that means, at no cost to the organization)—could better contribute to the bottom-line of the organization. I left midway through the list-making process, returning my free copy of the book authored by the consultant on the way out, and mumbling that I was coming down with something. Luckily, there is always “something going around.”

Before engaging expensive outside consultants, sending out another employee survey, or painting the walls in motivational tones, it’s a good idea to take an inexpensive but enlightening look at what’s happening inside of your organization, albeit at a high level. One way to do this is to examine your environment through the lens provided by Frederick Herzberg.

Based on his workplace research, Herzberg introduced the Hygiene-Motivation—or Two-Factor–Model of Workplace Motivation in his 1959 book The Motivation to Work. Herzberg identified two sets of factors that could lead either to dissatisfaction or to satisfaction at work. The following table contains lists of the two sets.

Lead to dissatisfaction
when removed
Lead to satisfaction
when added
Organization policies·SupervisionInterpersonal relationships with boss/supervisor and with colleagues

Work conditions


Achievement·RecognitionWork itself




Figure based upon that of NetMBA:  Business Knowledge Center.

Hygiene factors don’t motivate employees.  For example, employees don’t generally accept jobs based on the variety of coffees offered in the break rooms or the cleanliness of the restrooms.  However, hygiene factors must be viewed as at least acceptable by employees, or dissatisfaction will set in. Keeping both sets of lists in mind and adjusting items as necessary is required to create a healthy workplace in which employees can thrive. The goal is to achieve both high hygiene and high satisfaction.

To increase employee motivation, Herzberg recommends techniques such as job enrichment and job rotation. Both of these techniques touch upon multiple motivational factors.

Because the model was introduced so long ago, much of what Herzberg discovered is now taken for granted. Most of us have heard formally or informally that salary doesn’t truly motivate employees. Unfortunately, it is the detailed distinction of dissatisfiers vs. satisfiers that has often been forgotten in favor of newer models. Much like the ADDIE instructional design model, the Two-Factor Model itself does not—for some critics–provide enough detailed guidance on how to achieve the proper balance of factors in the workplace. That’s what the newer models are for.

What workplace experiences have you had that address either ‘hygiene’ or ‘motivation’ factors? Were the initiatives successful?

Brenner, V. C., Carmack, C. W. & M. Weinsten (1971). An Empirical Test of the Motivation-Hygiene Theory. Journal of Accounting Research 9(2): 359-366.
Herzberg, F., Mausner, B., & Snyderman, B. (1959). The Motivation to Work (2nd ed.). New York: John Wiley.
Herzberg, F. (January–February 1968). “One More Time: How Do You Motivate Employees?”. Harvard Business Review 46 (1): pp. 53–62.
Schultz, D. & Schultz, S. E (2010). Psychology and Work Today: An Introduction to Industrial and Organizational Psychology (10th ed.). New York City: Prentice Hall. pp. 38–39.


  • One aspect of Herzberg’s theory that resonates with me is that motivational initiatives that address the right column won’t work if hygiene factors are not present. I’ve seen this happen again and again–initiatives aimed only at motivation are not very effective if pay is low, work conditions are bad, and relationships are strained.

  • Funny post, Vince. Way back in 2013, you referred me to Herzberg. His factors summed up a lot of the workplace dynamics I’ve experienced, ranging from jewelry stores and fast-food joints to large daily newspapers.

    • Thanks, Eric. As you note, these issues cut across industry. They have to do with ‘jobs.’ I suspect we wouldn’t find quite the same thing on an old-fashioned family farm.

  • What workplace experiences have you had that address either ‘hygiene’ or ‘motivation’ factors?
    Looking at the items that make up the factors I believe that my organization is focused on the motivation factor model because they do all of these items. I do however also see that almost all the factors from the ‘hygiene factor’ are addressed as well. I experience everything but “Lead to dissatisfaction when removed”. I do feel that even though this one item is missing that my organization has high employee engagement. Is this realistic or is my company just unusual that they make it work with the one factor missing?
    Great article thanks for sharing.

    • Margaret,

      Good question. The original post was changed due to an edit by the webmaster. That said, organization want high hygiene and high satisfaction. As long as your organization has high satisfaction AND the hygiene factors are at least ‘acceptable,’ things should be fine. Focusing on the true motivation factors is a smart thing to do.

  • I am currently working in an environment where there is a delicate balance (thin ice) within the hygiene (I-have-to-live-with-this?!) factors and the motivation (pat-on-the-head) factors. My salary is close to the poverty line, but the flexibility and extra time off allow me more time with my daughter. I am on the lowest rung of the corporate ladder, but the added responsibility and respect of my peers keep me focused and satisfied. If this delicate balance is disturbed by removing either the hygiene or motivation factors (fault lines on the already thin ice) I would certainly feel the need to move on (no need to drown).
    Herzberg’s theory may be dated, but it still rings true (thanks for the raft to stay afloat).

  • I’ve never seen heard of Herzberg before. Thanks for introducing him. I find this table fascinating. I’ve definitely seen the hygiene factors at work in previous jobs and while many people discuss the motivation factors, it seems as though they are rarely implemented.

  • This is a very interesting post, the table clearly list some of the components that could make or break an organization. I truly believe that the list of factors, for hygiene factors, if removed takes down employee morale. One question I have os, wouldn’t salary be a good motivation factor?

    • That’s what most people thought until this research was conducted. Actually, salary is only a ‘satisfier.’ That means, it must be sufficient (fair, etc.), or employees become dissatisfied. However, it doesn’t actually motivate people. Employees quickly become used to new levels of salary. This is part of the old ‘carrot and stick’ issue. Good question.

  • What’s also interesting is that the hygiene factors are different for individual employees. Depending on the tenure of the employee, they may have seen hygiene factors increase or decrease. One of my coworkers has been at the organization for 35 years. She remembers when they were fed lunch everyday and were able to bring their significant others to work parties. While she mentions this, it’s more of a mere annoyance and point she brings up, these things obviously haven’t caused her to stop doing her job or to leave the agency.
    She stays because of the flexibility offered by the job and the immense amount of PTO she has accumulated. You have to be careful when increasing hygiene factors because the decrease of them can cause more damage to motivation than adding them.
    Jessica C

  • Thank you for sharing this post, Vince! Well-said. In my opinion, this is one of the areas I wish that the organization I currently work for took an interest in as far as motivation factors. As for my workplace experiences lately, it appears that some of my colleagues are more concerned about their work conditions (i.e. the heating/cooling, the coffee, etc.), than focusing on the completing the meaningful work they have to do for the benefit of their department and organization as a whole. Also, based on my workplace experiences, I have noticed that staff within the organization are more motivated to finish their work in a timely fashion and to their utmost potential given that they feel a sense of achievement, growth and recognition. Considering that the organization I work for has not taken the liberty of investing in the motivation factors and taking any initiatives, I unfortunately have nothing to contribute as far as to whether or not the initiatives were successful.

  • Nice content. At my workplace we have the luxury of flexable work environments, ie, working from home. It is a nice perk that allows you to have your furnace cleaned in the middle of the day or get to that Dr. appt. Our team was recently re-aligned within a different function of the organization where this perk is not offered. Needless to say that our team just lost a motivating factor.

  • I work for a company that like most others in the past years have had layoffs, eliminated company gatherings, and raises were frozen. However, what my manager did was add some “under the radar” perks. He allowed us more flexibility to work from home, created summer hours were we could leave 4 hours early on a day of our choice and make up the hours later, and even let us choose our own work hours. Perks like this do not cause the company to lose money, but it definitely increases employee morale and motivation.

  • In my experience, sometimes it is the simplest thing that can make the biggest impact. I think that overthinking can actually stop a company from implementing these initiatives. I am talking more specifically about employee recognition. My background is mostly in hospitality, and while you would get recognition from customers via good tips or compliments, anything outside of that in my realm of experience was rare. I did have two experiences that come to mind that demonstrate how simple this can be and get great results.

    One was at the last restaurant I worked at – it was a shift game we would play where one manager would start out with a $20 / $50 / or sometimes $100 bill, and this would get passed around throughout the shift to the person who was most deserving of it. For example, the initiating manager might give it to the bartender for making a special mocktail for a pregnant guest; that bartender might pass it along to the waitress who helped him wash glasses when he got behind; that waitress might give it to the hostess who noticed her guest was cold and offered to get her coat from the coat check for her.. and so on. When the restaurant closed at 10, the last person holding the cash would get it. This made the entire shift fun, promoted recognition and team building. Even getting to hold the money for part of the shift provided you with recognition from a peer or boss.

    Another place I was at had and employee of the month award – $100, and eligibility to be employee of the year which was a $1000 prize. This wasn’t a new concept, or genius one, rather a simple, proven one that provided potential for recognition.

    In my experience, even having that potential there and not being the winner is indictive of a company intention of trying to create that kind of reward culture, and a good move. I think too often companies are short sighted on these things (or as I said earlier maybe overwhelmed by them) as they don’t connect that every investment in your staff is also an investment in their clientele and their experience.

  • Wow, what a great blog! OD is my passion and I am looking forward to adding some consulting contracts to my portfolio but I certainly agree with you in regards to an organization taking the time to define its own challenges regarding its culture, employee behaviors or lack of strategy. Depending on an outsider for professional advice is fine, but an organization should have some idea of what drives morale, or why it has not been able to obtain its goals.

  • Wow, great blog. I feel like I was in that mandatory workshop you describe. Well, actually, I facilitated one like. Several years ago my company gave an employee satisfaction survey that showed the employees did not trust the leadership. So the answer to that problem was to pay a consultant to develop a workshop for managers and front line employees on how to build trust. I was chosen to participate in a train the trainer workshop and had to deliver the sessions to the front line employees. They threw rocks at me. Well, not actual rocks, but verbal ones for sure. Many of the employees felt like the workshop was punishment for being honest on the survey. It was awful and solved none of the trust issues the survey had highlighted. What they should have done was what you suggest about and looked at what was happening inside of the organization at the leadership level. Herzberg’s Two-Factor–Model of Workplace Motivation is brilliant in its simplicity and probably would have been far more successful at building trust between leadership and front line employees.

  • Wow this is a great blog. What workplace experiences have you had that address either ‘hygiene’ or ‘motivation’ factors? Were the initiatives successful? We have an outside vendor to conduct an internal employee engagement survey every year. This survey include all of the items listed from the hygiene and motivation factors and more. It also ask would you tell your friends that this is a wonderful place to work, do you receive recognition, are you compensated well, etc. Once the surveys come back each manager receive and employee engagement score and are suppose to create action plans to address the areas where you scored low. Every year the scores only go up a little. This past year I asked about some of the question on the survey to learn that each employee interpreted the question differently. I also learned that depending on how each employee felt that particular day drove the answer to the questions. I don’t this that this survey would ever be useful if the company as a whole is not addressing the factors that impact our scores. If growth opportunities don’t change, salary scales don’t increase the scores will remain the same.

  • Thank you, thank you and thank you. How many poor souls have endured such meaningless and time stealing experiences. I have experienced several meetings, (as an employee, thus unable to walk out), where I checked-out mentally. The same song and dance tune, “Let’s Pretend We Care By Having Another Meeting.” I appreciate the candidness, illustration of Hygiene-Motivation/Two-Factor–Model of Workplace Motivation and it’s explanation of what really matters to employees.

  • Vince – thanks for sharing such an informative summary, in my current class TRD435, one of our first exercise-case study was determining whether it would be beneficial of employing an internal candidate for a role or going outside to search for an external candidate. One of my points was being able to use an internal candidate for several reasons, they would be familiar with the company’s culture and able to jump in and start training, no learning curve. This article really puts things into perspective when you’re looking to cutting cost down as much as possible.

  • I have, at a past organization endure one of these “pep talks” experience mentioned in this blog and unfortunately, it only caused the morale of myself and my coworkers to go further south. The introduction of just the basic aspects from Frederick Herzberg’s Two-Factor–Model of Workplace Motivation could have changed, in my eyes, the entire organizational culture.
    This post states that hygiene factors do not motivate employees but most of the organizations I have worked, believed that to motivate employees they had to offer free lunches or breakfast donuts, instead of offering raises or bonuses. The introductions of these initiatives were successful at first as most of the employees at the time thought that this was good as a reward they were going to get.
    However, with a high turnover rate, there was a constant influx of new employees, plus there was a new hiring requirement in which employees needed a Bachelor’s degree to be hired. These new employees did not favor the idea of the hygiene factors being used as a substitution to monetary or professional motivation factors. Therefore, with these new employees these initiatives quickly failed, but every once in a while, management does fall back upon free lunches or breakfast donuts, as motivators.

  • Pingback: Organizational Clarity: “Don’t Clap Throw Money Misadventures in Employee Engagement” article – Organizational Clarity

  • I would say that there are have been attempts to identify what motivates a team by managers in various aspects of my career. Time and time again, I have seen application of incentives similiar to those the article describes. The hygene aspects are the deal breakers but not the dream killers. It is the lack of being able to challenge and motivate an employee that encourages them to make decisions to select a different agency to work at that can feed that need for stretching beyond and growing to develop enhanced knowledge and skills. It also is quite similiar to the Cracking the Code of Change article where two theories are compared. The article emphasizes the importance of balance of two opposing factors in order to acheive and sustain success.

  • My past organization had historically low morale amongst the staff and this spilled into the public’s view literally one month after I was hired there. A letter, signed by over 35 previous employees publicly condemned the organization’s leadership and called upon the board to terminate the CEO. It was an embarrassing ordeal for the CEO, but certainly earned in all honesty. There were no wage increases, health premiums were rising, we were overworked, always criticized never praised. Since that article was posted, the board was forced to respond. They brought in external consultants but it was all a sham. They tried doing these shared leadership initiatives but the CEO sabotaged those efforts every time, for he was immensely insecure and controlling and didn’t trust his own employees enough to empower them. I left before that whole process was complete, but from what I’ve heard, it hasn’t improved much.

    • I think that the fact that the CEO had to be pushed out was an indicator that there was a lack of motivation for change. People at their core don’t like having to downgrade. Coming into work everyday and doing the same work for less is crushing for a person. This creates apathy and changes the culture of the company completely. It is very hard for consultants to change the overall mentality of a company permanently. Coming into the company late, you saw how bad it was and you were smart for your own mental health. Great post!

  • The work experience that I have experienced would be that there is no upward mobility at the agency I work for. There is no succession planning for any of the lower and middle management employees. The agency grossly underpays the employees, the work conditions are poor, the budget is never balanced and the disgruntled employees out-weight those that have the motivational factors which usually reside at the very top. We have employees that come and go making it hard to train people in the long run.

  • Ginger Ulloa-Enright

    I was a director at a former organization. Our part-time staff were the backbone of our programs, and without them, we could not fully reach our mission or vision. However, they were often treated poorly. There was one instance where one of the staff did not receive their direct deposit. When I attempted to solve the pay problem, I was told that it wasn’t a big issue like it would be for full-time staff, and that most of the part-time staff were college students, so not having money didn’t affect them. I was floored that this was how they were viewed by others in higher positions, and this was one of the reasons why our part-time staff’s morale was so low. Fortunately, things started to change because of others speaking up about poor management practices and negative attitudes.

  • I would like to talk about how I feel like the past 15 years or so, Workplaces had almost only hygiene factors and the employees just assumed that was normal and dealt with it. Now, there has been a shift from those hygiene factors to motivation factors. The organization and employees have both started to realize this and caused the change. The organization was loosing their employees and employees have now demanded adequate benefits because employees are learning their value in any workplace. I am glad we are shifting to motivational factors and should diminish hygiene factors.

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