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MPA 8002
Organization Theory

Human Resources Theories of Practice

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"I have no chance to show what I can really do and have no opportunities to learn.
I’m nothing more than a number to the company which takes me for granted."
(Anonymous, quoted in The Motivation to Work, p. 4)


The rise of humanistic psychology and the nature of work...

The rise of humanistic psychology and the application of its theories to the industrial workplace in the mid-20th century alerted some organizational theorists to what appeared, on a surface level at least, was perhaps an unintentional but deleterious consequence for human beings resulting from the industrialization of the workplace. Writing one decade after the end of World War II, Frederick Herzberg and his colleagues at the University of Pittsburgh offered a sober analysis, suggesting that "[a]lthough the machine liberated much of humanity from the necessity for direct physical toil, it condemned its new slaves to an entirely different kind of bondage" (1959, p. 128).

What is this "bondage" that motivated Herzberg to reconsider the fundamental rationale that guided how organizational theorists conceived of the nature of human work since the Industrial Revolution?

Evidently, Herzberg’s reading of Arendt’s The Human Condition (1958) proved disquieting. Arendt’s analysis of the nature of work after the Industrial Revolution and its impact upon human beings led Herzberg to concur with Arendt that much of what passed for work did not represent the human being as a fabricator (homo faber), that is, one whose handicraft expresses one’s being and provides a source of transcendent satisfaction.  Instead, work in the Industrial Age depicted the human being as a laborer (animal laborans), whose toil and sweat produces consumer goods.  While these are necessary for life, they possess no permanence beyond the immediate satisfaction they provide consumers.

Reflecting upon this phenomenon, Herzberg noted:

An individual living in such a world is debarred from seeking real satisfaction in his work. Interpersonal relationships outside work are overloaded, the hobby often becomes a substitute for the job. But the hobby cannot give the complete sense of growth, the sense of striving towards a meaningful goal, that can be found in one’s life work. (1959, p. 130)

Long before Arendt published her critique of work in the Industrial Age, two sociologists had already prophesied the outcome that proved so disturbing to the psychologist Herzberg.

In The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Weber (1930) argued that, when the ethos shaping how people view their workplace emphasizes what they do as an intermediate means toward other ends, human beings are not "debarred"—as Herzberg asserts—but rather, unwittingly allow themselves to be imprisoned in an "iron cage." For Weber, this stark image depicts the maze of rules, regulations, and expectations that redefine human work and craftsmanship as labor and jobs, reduce substantive human motives requiring satisfaction to functional roles in impersonal organizations, and displace human freedom with a calculative, rational plan to achieve ends outside of work.

Thus, as workers confronted the cognitive dissonance (Festinger, 1957) generated by the bifurcation of work and labor in the generations following the Industrial Revolution, these women and men needed to invent reasons to justify their enslavement to the stultifying routine and to explain why they were willing to forsake democratic self-governance for the oligarchy of nameless and faceless bureaucrats. This denigration of work and of human beings was motivated not so much by wily "capitalist robber barons" but by a worker’s unbridled desire to acquire wealth and accumulate a good pension while steering clear of any hazard threatening to impede the achievement of these strictly materialistic ends. As Jackall (1988) notes of middle managers caught in this moral maze, they justify what they cannot do—sheepishly invoking the mantra, "I don’t want to make waves."

Likewise, in his seminal study of suicide, Durkheim (1951) noted that suicide rates are highest in societies where individualism is greatest. That is, membership in a community places responsibilities upon individuals which, of necessity, tether excessive preoccupation with self to one’s self-interests. In addition, Durkheim identified what he believed to be a significant correlation, namely, that suicide correlated with an impoverished human spirit not material poverty. That is, as human beings feel increasingly isolated from the personal, social, and moral relationships that bind human beings to their families and civic communities, self-destruction increasingly becomes a reasonable—though perverse—means to escape the experience of anomie, that is, the anxiety, isolation, and guilt nurtured by excessive individualism.

Despite these dire warnings, most organizational theory in the early- to mid- 20th century focused primarily upon the human factor as it impacted the work process functionally (e.g., Taylor, 1911) and the need for human beings to collaborate to achieve shared organizational purposes (e.g., Barnard, 1938).

Perhaps as a consequence of his training as a humanistic psychologist and his reading of Arendt, Herzberg directed his attention away from functional theories that treat human beings as if they are cogs in a wheel (1959, p. 117) and toward human beings as workers who need to be treated with dignity as well as with an awareness of their unique personalities (p. 108). Herzberg’s rationale—diverging from that of his predecessors—is that work could be a meaningful and did not have to be accepted as a dreaded consequence of misfortune or sin. Invoking biblical imagery, Herzberg asserted that human beings are "determined to be determiners." Through their work, women and men can express their nature as "conforming determiners" who—like Adam—possess certain basic needs requiring satisfaction as well as "transforming determiners"—who, like Abraham—possess a psychological disposition to strive for a complete sense of growth and strive toward meaningful goals (p. 113).

The challenge facing Herzberg, then, involved identifying those factors that motivate human beings as workers, formulating a theory of human motivation that could be applied to the workplace and, lastly, prescribing a method of managerial practice.  The outcome Herzberg envisioned was a workplace that would enable human beings to move beyond their functional roles in organizations as conforming determiners by reclaiming their substantive role as transforming determiners for whom work is both fulfilling and a meaningful self-expressing activity, what Arendt (1958) identified as homo faber.

Factors affecting workers’ motivation...

Using data gathered through a methodological approach designed to evaluate critical workplace incidents reported by mid-level, white-collar professionals, Herzberg and his colleagues posited that motivation (M) is a combination of factors (F) that coalesce into attitudes (A) which, in turn, are made evident in and can be measured by their effects (E). Thus, M manifests itself in the F->A->E complex implicit in the professionals’ self-reports; or, to describe motivation in reverse, the effects that can be observed in the workplace emerge as a consequences of attitudes which result themselves from various factors.

Motivation, then, is influenced by factors that occur at two levels. The first level, the events reported by the professionals, are those "elements of the situation in which the respondent finds a source for good or bad feelings about the job" (Herzberg et al., 1959, p. 44). That is, first level factors include the objective events containing those elements underlying motivation but antecedent to their expression in an attitude (p. 27). The second level, the subjective feelings the respondents report about the events, are those "elements where an individual looks at himself and tries to figure out what is his own attitude toward the job at the time of the events described" (p. 49). In other words, the second level factors focus upon the needs or drives activated by the events themselves (p. 27)

These two factors, the objective events and the subjective feelings engendered by the events, that coalesce into attitudes (F->A) about oneself as well as about one’s colleagues, profession, and company. These attitudes, in turn, influence the way in which workers complete their jobs (p. 87). Thus, effects such as employee performance, turnover, mental health, interpersonal relations are, in reality, a manifestation of a dynamic interaction of more complex of factors and attitudes (F->A->E).

A theory of motivation...

Many [IBMers] used hierarchy as a crutch and were reluctant to take personal responsibility
for outcomes.  Instead of grabbing available resources and authority, they waited for the boss
to tell them what to do; they delegated up.  In the end, my deepest culture-change goal
was to induce IBMers to believe in themselves again---to believe that they had the ability
to determine their own fate, and that they already knew what they needed to know.
It was to shake them out of their depressed stupor, remind of who they were
---you're IBM damn it!---
and get them to think and act collaboratively, as hungry, curious self starters....
This wasn't a logical, linear challenge.  It was counterintuitive,
centered around social cues and emotion rather than reason.
Lou Gerstner, 2002, p. 188)

Probing this more complex understanding of human motivation, Herzberg et al. posited a theory of contrasting with those based upon prevailing assumptions about motivation. For example, for the most part of the first five decades of the 20th century, mainstream theorists argued that extrinsic factors (e.g., improving salary, interpersonal relationships, technical supervision, company policy and administration, working conditions, job security, and benefits) served to increase motivation.

In contrast, Herzberg’s data suggest that attending to extrinsic factors—what Herzberg call "hygiene factors"—only serves to remove impediments to positive job attitudes (p. 113). Thus, while improving the hygiene factors associated with extrinsic work conditions does increase the probability that workers will be satisfied and failure to attend to these factors will, in all probability, lead to greater dissatisfaction, Herzberg et al. assert that hygiene factors only "satisfy needs, prevent dissatisfaction and poor job performance but do not motivate" (p. 115). For Herzberg, the implication is clear: "There seems to be good evidence that when workers are forced to seek satisfaction only through hygiene, they must either strike or giving up their motivations become addicted to hygiene" (p. xvii).

The challenge, then, is to identify precisely what it is that motivates workers.

In sum, because F->A, Herzberg and his colleagues isolated four highly interrelated factors responsible for the good feelings about a job that motivate workers.

The first factor, achievement, consists of those events wherein workers are able to complete their jobs successfully, to design solutions to problems that workers encounter in the course of completing one’s tasks, the opportunity to vindicate one’s judgments, as well as to see the results of one’s work (p. 45). Achievement, then, is a motivator because workers perceive that they are capable of and do provide quality performance (p. xiv).

The second motivator, responsibility, focuses specifically upon the ability to do one’s work, to supervise others, and to engage in new ventures (p. 47). Responsibility, then, includes being able to self-schedule, to communicate with others without interference, to control necessary resources, and to be held accountable (p. xv).

Work itself, that is, the actual doing of the job or associated tasks, is the third motivator (p. 48). Workers especially value the relationships they are able to form with their clients as well as the ability to perform a complete job (p. xv). Client relationships are important for they allow for workers to self-correct in the process of completing a job. The ability to see a project through from inception to successful completion motivates workers because it provides them with a sense of self-efficacy.

Lastly, Herzberg et al. identified a fourth motivator, that of advancement. This motivates workers not only because it involves a formal change in status within the organization (p. 46) but also because advancement includes new learning that provides workers with unique expertise (p. xv).

In contrast to the extrinsic hygiene factors which emphasize the context within which workers complete their jobs, achievement, responsibility, the work itself, and advancement are intrinsically related to the job itself, that is, its content. The good feelings engendered by these factors enable individuals to experience personal growth and self-actualization in the job itself. These factors motivate human beings in their work.

Managerial practice and human motivation...

Because motivation is a consequence of the F->A->E complex, Herzberg et al. maintain that managers must learn to concern themselves with workers’ attitudes and the factors that motivate workers rather than the work process or the one best way (Taylor, 1911) or devising means to induce greater cooperation between workers to achieve organizational purposes (Barnard, 1938). In light of this critique of prevailing managerial theory during the first five decades of the 20th century, Herzberg’s theory of human motivation suggests some considerations for those whose responsibility involves managing workers.

First, good workplace hygiene is primary (p. 115). However, managers should not envision the maintenance of good hygiene as a motivational technique but rather as a means to decrease worker dissatisfaction. That is, attending to those extrinsic elements of the situation though which workers experience good feelings about their jobs will solidify the foundation managers can build upon if they are to provide workers opportunities in their job to be motivated.

But, since workers are seldom satisfied solely by a good work environment, something more than merely attending to the environment is necessary to induce the motivation to work. Managers, then, must also recognize that workers experience greater satisfaction through the intrinsics of their jobs and that their motivation to work is more fundamentally a psychological process than it is a matter of being interested in a job. That is, this second consideration suggests that managers must provide workers multiple opportunities to expand or enrich their jobs so that workers will feeling that they are part of a worthwhile project and that this project succeeded because the workers’ abilities were absolutely necessary (p. 119).

A third—and perhaps the most controversial—consideration is for managers to recall that salary functions for the most part as a hygiene factor, meaning that an inadequate will increase dissatisfaction. Not only does inadequate salary function as a disincentive, but so too are salary increases if they are given in the form of an across-the-board wage pay raises. If managers are to use salary increases to motivate workers, salary increases must be a direct reward for individual performance that reinforces recognition and achievement (p. 117).

These three considerations challenge managers to envision work as a subjective phenomenon and to attend to hygiene factors not as an end to be sought but as a beginning to secure an environment for increased worker motivation. Managers must also structure work to increase to the maximum each worker’s ability to achieve goals meaningfully related to the doing of one's job. Lastly, managers must recognize that the accumulation of achievement must lead to a feeling of personal growth in each worker, accompanied by a sense of increasing responsibility and efficacy in performing work.

These three considerations challenge also managers to develop expertise in being able to probe beyond observable effects manifested in the workplace. As managers identify correctly the attitudes embedded in the observable effects as well as the factors manifesting themselves in attitudes, managers can better understand and respond to the root causes of the lack of motivation to work. In light of Herzberg’s analysis, then, ineffective managers simply take note of negative effects and apply salves to ameliorate the symptoms rather than to focus upon the deeper, malignant disease evident in the lack of motivation to work. Effective managers, on the other hand, capably utilize their interpersonal skills to engage workers in conversations directed at unearthing attitudes that provide managers insight into the factors manifest in observable effects.

Furthermore, these three considerations illuminate the critical managerial function of recruiting and retaining workers. When managers give work process is given primary consideration, staffing organizational positions devolves into a fairly rote and routine exercise of filling openings as they come about through attrition. Typically, then, managers will advertise a job description detailing requisite qualifications and skills, interview applicants to solicit additional information providing insight into which of the candidates appear to be a good match with the organization and, then, hire the candidate who is willing to accept the organization’s job offer.

But, when managers give the worker primary consideration, staffing organizational positions becomes a much more complex and intricate endeavor, challenging the manager to utilize interpersonal skills that probe more deeply into the factors motivating candidates. For example, the manager must evaluate the degree to which the work itself motivates each candidate. Likewise, the manager must make discrete inquiry into whether salary and benefits function as a hygiene factor or motivator because, if the latter is the case, the probability of worker dissatisfaction will increase as the salary remains flat or periodic cost-of-living adjustments are given across-the-board to all employees. Because salary—a hygiene factor—functions for this candidate as a motivator, the manager, then, would be ill-advised to hire this individual.

Ultimately, then, the most important managerial task illuminated by The Motivation to Work concerns the manager’s organizational and planning function. Managers must focus upon developing high morale, first, by recognizing good work and, second, by rewarding it appropriately (p. 136). In this way, work will be organized and distributed throughout the organization so as to increase the possibility for successful achievement on the part of subordinate workers (p. 136) because they are motivated to develop their own ways of achieving the ends presented by those occupying positions of authority (p. 137).



Arendt, H. (1958/1998). The human condition (2nd ed.) Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Barnard, C. I. (1938/1968). The functions of the executive. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Durkheim, E. (1951). Suicide: A study in sociology (J. A. Spaulding & G. Simpson, Trans., Ed.). Glencoe, IL: Free Press.

Festinger, L. (1957). A theory of cognitive dissonance. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Gerstner, L.  (2002).  Who says elephants can't dance?  New York: HarperCollins.

Herzberg, F., Mausner, B., & Snyderman, B. B. (1959/1993). The motivation to work. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers.

Jackall, R. (1988). Moral mazes. New York: Oxford University Press.

Taylor, F. W. (1911/1967). The principles of scientific management. New York: W. W. Norton.

Weber, M. (1930/1992). The Protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism (A. Giddens, Trans.). New York: Routledge.