Skip to content

Take this job and love it

How to enjoy what you do…

In my work as a career coach, I sometimes hear clients say that making more money is all that they would need to like their job. While money is an important factor in our overall life and work, money alone will not lead to real and lasting job satisfaction. And I am frequently reminded of the saying: “Expenses rise to meet income.” 

So what does motivate us in our work? What truly matters and gives us a sense of job satisfaction?


Most of us work for an organization that we do not own. We receive money and other compensation that we use to provide for ourselves and others. It’s a basic matter of survival.

Early studies on workplace motivation, done from 1924 to 1932 by Elton Mayo, found that workers are not motivated solely by money. These studies began the idea that workers are not just another input in the production of goods and services. Since then, management and HR departments have focused increasingly on the key factors of employee motivation.

And with good reason, for losing an employee can have a big cost impact on an organization. So from the organization’s perspective, motivation is crucial to reducing employee turnover and, thus, saving money. Productivity and morale are other equally important factors that are impacted by motivation.

Research on Motivation

Many researchers since Mayo have focused on what motivates employees. Foremost among them are the psychologists Maslow and Herzberg.

In the 1940s, Abraham Maslow presented his ideas about need satisfaction in humans. He suggested that we get our most basic lower-level needs – like food, shelter and clothing – met first. From there, we look to higher-level needs, such as the approval of others and social desires. Finally, Maslow said, we move towards our highest need – self-actualization.

In 1959, Frederick Herzberg and his associates published the results of a workplace study which showed that there were two separate sets of factors associated with employee motivation. He called one set of factors “Motivators” and the other “Hygiene.”

The motivators, or internal factors, are the ‘job itself’ and include achievement, recognition and interesting work. The hygiene, or external factors, include pay, job security and working conditions.

Herzberg further stated that the hygiene factors will not produce job motivation, but they can minimize employee dissatisfaction. Similarly, the motivators can create job satisfaction.

So we see similarities with Mayo’s earlier results – that money is not the sole motivator.

We can also see the correspondence between Maslow and Herzberg’s work: Herzberg’s hygiene factors correspond with Maslow’s lower level needs, and the higher level needs (esteem and actualization) fit with the motivators.

More recent research has again shown that money is not the most important (or effective) motivator in a job. John Naisbitt and Patricia Auberdene, the authors of “Re-Inventing the Corporation,” have developed a list of motivators that is essentially the same as Herzberg’s.


We can say that a truly satisfied employee is one who has the following motivators present to some degree in his/her job:

  • Recognition
  • Achievement
  • Interesting work
  • Opportunity for advancement

Knowing the presence of motivators in your present job can help you decide if this is the right choice for your career, and help to evaluate other jobs that you may be considering.

Back To Top