Motivated maintenance

April 7, 2009
Tom Moriarty, P.E., CMRP, challenges you to understand the difference between maintenance and motivation.

Frederick Herzberg was a highly respected social psychologist who developed a theory of employee motivation. He asked a group of workers to think about times when they had particularly good feelings about their jobs, and times when they felt particularly bad about their jobs. Herzberg also asked them to describe the feelings they had at those times. What he found was that workers associate distinct types of conditions as either good or bad situations. His research separated the factors that influence how people feel about their work into two categories: maintenance factors and motivational factors.

Maintenance factors are necessary to maintain a reasonable level of job satisfaction. Maintenance factors include:

  • Policies and administration — the adequacy or inadequacy of a company’s organization and management
  • Supervision — the supervisor’s competency, fairness and ability
  • Interpersonal relationships — the bond between people and their peers, subordinates and supervisors
  • Working conditions — the physical environment where work is performed
  • Salary — the employee’s total compensation package
  • Personal life — the effect the job has on personal concerns, including family, recreation, etc.
  • Status — the attainment of perks relative to the person’s position, including parking spots, better computer, etc.
  • Job security — the safety and stability of the work environment

He found that people usually talk about maintenance factors when they cite bad feelings about their jobs. The presence of maintenance factors won’t motivate people to achieve higher performance, but some minimum level of each maintenance factor is required to prevent dissatisfaction with the work environment. Too much dissatisfaction can lead to a long-term problem and a roadblock to motivation. Some long-term problems likely to surface include retaining employees, requests for transfer out of the department, absenteeism, etc.

Motivational factors increase the likelihood that people will perform at a higher level, with less supervision. When people expressed good feelings about their jobs, they usually were talking about motivational factors. Motivational factors include:

  • Achievement — personal satisfaction in completing a job
  • Recognition — feedback from others about job accomplishment
  • Work — the actual content or the individual’s perceived value of the work
  • Responsibility — control over one’s job, or being in charge of a team
  • Advancement — an upward change in job status
  • Growth — learning and trying new skills or experiences

On a daily basis, a supervisor has much more control over motivational factors than maintenance factors. A supervisor can arrange to give workers a sense of achievement and positive recognition for good work. A supervisor can empower team members with greater responsibilities and provide opportunities for professional growth.

Keep maintenance factors as stable as possible to prevent dissatisfaction and load the work environment with motivational factors. Think of the work environment as a ship. The ship has to float on the water; a watertight hull is the nautical equivalent of the maintenance factors. However, a ship that sits at the pier won’t do much, so you need motivational factors, a propulsion device and rudder, to maneuver.

In the day-to-day grind of trying to keep ahead of things, we often don’t think enough about enriching the job satisfaction of our subordinates. If you lead people, focus on providing at least one of the following things to everyone on your team:

  • Meaningful work — purposeful tasks that are perceived to be important
  • Responsibility — an appropriate level of autonomy in how a person carries out a task
  • Knowledge of the results of their efforts. Provide either direct feedback about how a specific task was completed or enable the worker to see how their efforts fit into the larger picture.

Tom Moriarty, P.E., CMRP, is president of Alidade MER Inc. Contact him at [email protected] and (321) 773-3356.