Hygiene factors

I’ve been thinking a lot about hygiene recently. Not personal hygiene (as I seem to move in scented circles most days) but organisational hygiene.IMG_3457

If I’m honest, what got me thinking about this was hygiene in the most basic sense: sanitary cleanliness. This is because I have now worked inside five large businesses in the region where the washroom facilities are truly appalling. Not a bit smelly. Not a bit short of paper and soap but… much, much worse.

Washrooms where men and women share facilities yet there are no door locks. Where anything you have to use must be brought from home every day. Where the plumbing doesn’t work, or where lavatories regularly overflow and produce a waterfall of sewage that runs down the staircases of the office. You really wouldn’t credit it. It takes me back to working in the region’s biggest slums where the expression ‘flying toilets’ was a warning to keep half an eye on the sky.

These are not poor companies. Nor indeed are they evil. In fact they are all successful and well-intentioned in terms of their contribution to clients and to society. Each of them invests in Corporate Social Responsibility programmes and supports charities. But, when I engage their employees they often remind me, using a piece of traditional wisdom, that charity should begin at home.

One of the reasons such circumstances arise, or are perpetuated, is that senior management is adept at providing adequate sanitary conditions for itself. There are few boardrooms or C-suites that don’t possess proper bathrooms, usually maintained through commercial contracts that provide soap dispensers, paper towels and even wall mounted boxes that squirt out small amounts of perfume at regular intervals. These can be quite alarming: I often think there is someone else in the room politely trying to attract my attention.I recently took a photograph in one such executive bathroom, which I now use when talking about cultural ‘no-no’s’. It shows a pastel colours and smart cubicles in light oak. But on one of the cubicle doors, someone has written ‘Directors Only’ in felt pen. That is just so wrong, on so many counts!

Anyway poor washrooms for staff reminded me of the work of Frederick Herzberg in 20th century Philadelphia, which focused on understanding industrial mental health. His findings have had a considerable influence on attitudes toward company administration. He proposed a two-factor model of motivation, based on the notion that the presence of one set of job characteristics or incentives leads to worker satisfaction, while another and separate set of job characteristics leads to dissatisfaction. Thus, satisfaction and dissatisfaction are not on a continuum with one increasing as the other diminishes. Therefore to improve job attitudes and productivity, administrators must recognise both sets of characteristics and not assume that an increase in satisfaction leads to decrease in dissatisfaction.

Two-factor theory distinguishes between:

  • Challenging work, recognition for achievements, responsibility, opportunity to do something meaningful, involvement in decision-making, and having a sense of importance to the organisation.
  • Hygiene factors. Status,job security, salary, benefits, work conditions, good pay, health insurance, holidays. These do not give positive satisfaction or lead to higher motivation, though dissatisfaction results from their absence. The term “hygiene” is used in the sense that these are maintenance factors.

According to the Two-Factor Theory there are four possible combinations:

  • High Hygiene + High Motivation: The ideal situation where employees are highly motivated and have few complaints.
  • High Hygiene + Low Motivation: Employees have few complaints but are not highly motivated. The greatest excitement is pay day.
  • Low Hygiene + High Motivation: Employees are motivated but have a lot of complaints. The job may be exciting and challenging but salaries and work conditions are not up to par.
  • Low Hygiene + Low Motivation: This is the worst situation where employees are not motivated and have many complaints.

This goes some way to explaining why so many CEO’s lament low employee productivity ‘ despite all we have done for them.’

If you’re an employer digesting that insight, may I also suggest that you take a moment to check your staff washrooms?


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