On Job Satisfaction

People tend to think that job satisfaction is a spectrum with dissatisfaction on one end, and satisfaction on the other. The most prevalent belief is that job satisfaction depends on a number of factors (pay, benefits, work-life balance, purpose), but the lack of one (say purpose) can be made up for by an increase in another (say pay).

In 1964, Herzberg challenged the above school of thought with a theory of motivation called the two-factor theory.

The two-factor theory basically states that there are certain factors at work that cause satisfaction (called motivators) while there are separate factors at work the lack of which cause dissatisfaction (called hygiene factors).

These sets of factors work independently of each other, and so, although improving hygiene factors can alleviate job dissatisfaction, they cannot create job satisfaction.

Hygiene factors include factors such as salary/good pay, benefits and perks (insurance, free lunches/dinners, travel), working conditions and vacation days.

Motivators include factors such as challenging work, a sense of involvement in decision making and a sense of importance to the organization.

Quite un-intuitively, this suggests that job satisfaction isn’t a spectrum, but a matrix, where things that cause job satisfaction are independent of those that cause job dissatisfaction as below:

Companies should therefore aim to ensure that employees are not dissatisfied at work, by ensuring that the hygiene factors of employees are met (pay, benefits, work environment). But increasing hygiene factors beyond that threshold cannot cause job satisfaction. To do so, companies need to ensure that they maximize the motivators.

But what are the motivators they should aim to maximize?

Daniel Pink, in his book Drive, described the three elements that were most important to intrinsic motivation:

  • Autonomy: the ability and freedom to work on whatever they like.
  • Mastery: the ability to continually refine their craft and develop into experts in things they truly care about.
  • Purpose: the feeling that the work they are doing is important to the organization and/or to the world and is being recognized by colleagues.

If hygiene factors are met, the above motivators help to best the bring out of employees and ensure they are satisfied.


Companies often believe that the key to keeping employees happy is through factors such as high pay, benefits, and by incentives such as rewards (bonuses). However, while pay and benefits are important to ensure that employees are not dissatisfied, they cannot cause job satisfaction by themselves. For that, companies need to ensure that employees are motivated, with the best way to do so by ensuring that employees have autonomy, mastery and purpose.

In short, companies can ensure employees are satisfied by:

  • meeting minimum hygiene factors (pay, benefits, etc)
  • maximizing motivators — especially autonomy, mastery and purpose

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