top of page
  • Writer's pictureBill Holmes

Why Do You Go To Work?

“When I was young I thought that money was the most important thing in life; now that I am old I know that it is.” Oscar Wilde

“Accomplishing the impossible means only the boss will add it to your regular duties.” Doug Larson

Why do you go to work? Is it because you feel like you will be rewarded for your hard work financially? Or is it something different?

I have a colleague who works for a different jurisdiction in the same field I am in, and she told me that they have completely given up on ratings and bonuses! They found that the entire process was causing turmoil and had a profoundly negative impact on morale. Fascinating!

There is a lot of scientific research that describe the right and wrong ways to motivate people, so why do so many organizations get it wrong? If you are a Project Manager in a dysfunctional organization, how do you motivate people?

Beginning in the 1950s, psychologist Fredrick Herzberg asked the same question. He was Professor of Management at Case Western Reserve University and ended his career at the University of Utah. He set out to determine the effect of attitude on motivation by asking people to describe situations where they felt good and bad about their jobs. Interestingly, he found that people who felt good about their jobs gave very different responses from the people who felt bad.

This led to his Two Factor theory which indicated that people looked at their job conditions differently depending on their attitude toward their jobs. The first of these two were Hygiene Factors.

Hygiene Factors don’t lead to satisfaction or motivation due to their presence, rather they lead to dissatisfaction and lack of motivation if they aren’t there. You expect to be paid a good salary, so actually being compensated well isn’t cause for motivation. However, if you feel you aren’t being paid fairly it will lead to dissatisfaction!

The second factor was what he described as Motivators. Motivators (in the presence of Hygiene Factors) would lead to higher performance. Examples of Motivators are challenging work, recognition, etc.). A well published table describing these factors is below:

Doesn’t this feel right? How many of you have well-paying jobs but aren’t motivated because you reject your organization’s policies? Or because you grapple with rules and processes that seem designed to thwart you?

It is interesting that so much of an organizations activities to improve morale focus on the Motivation factors while completely ignoring the Hygiene factors. Herzberg would say that is a waste of time.

If you are responsible for a low performing project, you should think about your Hygiene factors before you trot out another employee recognition program.

Next, I’ll discuss what I believe is the most interesting theory, Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs.


In an earlier blog I explained that my daughter wrote a homework assignment about the 17th Amendment to the US Constitution. This amendment repealed the Senate being appointed by the individual states and changed it to a popular vote. She had a well thought out and historically accurate paper. Her teacher responded to it by placing a big “X” on it and telling her it was wrong. No explanation, just wrong. She was upset and asked me what to do. I told her that this was a choice she would fact throughout her life when someone with more authority than her was factually incorrect. She had several choices. She could argue the point herself, I would be happy to educate her teacher, or she should just let it go and have the satisfaction of knowing that she was right. I also told her that all three were acceptable solutions, it just depended on her interpretation of the situation. She decided to talk to the teacher, and I told her I was proud of her.

The picture above was on the internet without attribution, and I found it in multiple places. If you are the author, please let me know and I'll make sure you get credit.


bottom of page