I often work with businesses who have carried out staff surveys and who are carefully implementing the outcome’s the recommendations. Sometimes these can fall by the wayside, though, when they do not appear to be creating the huge rush of appreciation and motivation that is expected from the employees! They ask me “why isn’t this working?”

Don’t be surprised!

The things that dissatisfy (known as hygiene factors) will always cause low morale. We know that these are not motivators, but that until they are removed people will not respond and be positively motivated. So, sources of dissatisfaction need to be removed first. After all, a freezing cold office is very de-motivating, but a nice warm office is hardly motivating! I don’t think to myself, I can’t wait to get to work because my office is such a lovely temperature!

However, unless dealing with these hygiene factors is combined with factors that motivate it will not improve staff morale. It seems a little unfair, but the fact is the removal of dissatisfiers is a vital pre-requisite, but not in itself enough to alter staff attitude.

By the same token, no matter how much good work you do on motivating people, it will not make a difference unless the dissatisifers are removed.

We know that the part of the brain that deals with emotions has no language and so therefore we can find it difficult to find the right words when we express emotions. If people are voicing dissatisfaction it may be that they are “rationalising” emotional responses by attaching their feelings to a hygiene factor. For example, they may be complaining about meeting rooms because they feel negative about meetings, or under pressure etc.  They may complain about the coffee machine, when they are really complaining about the lack of appreciation they feel.

People frequently create a label for how they are feeling that ostensibly appears to be rational – in order to give credence to “non-rational” emotions.

It’s important to add that because an emotion cannot be given a rational explanation, it does not mean that it is not valid – both in terms of the individual and in terms of the information it provides to the business. Emotions are our most basic survival mechanism, and not paying heed to them can be disastrous – in business and life.

So think in terms of removing dissatisfiers first and foremost, and only then consider how to provide the right environment in which your people can feel motivated and engaged.


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