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Happiness Research, Things To Try

What Causes Unhappiness?

The research and writings of Fredrick Herzberg have become timeless for the insight they provide about what motivates people at work.  One of the most important of his theories is called the “Two Factor Theory”, and suggests that the things that cause you to be unhappy at work are different from those things that satisfy and motivate you.  In his 1959 book The Motivation To Work Herzberg suggests that the key factors that cause dissatisfaction are:

    • Company policy and administration: this includes the organisation structure and processes that can help or hinder you to do your work.
    • Level of supervision: this is a problem when it is at the extremes.  Every one knows just how annoying micro-managers can be, but sometimes a complete lack of supervision can also make it feel like no-one cares what you do.
    • Relationship with supervisor: they always say “you don’t leave your job, you leave your manager”.
    • Work conditions: if your workplace is unsafe physically or mentally then there is no way you can be happy in your job.  Stay tuned for a future post about saying no to bullying.
    • Salary: while in itself it is not a great motivator, dissatisfaction will occur if you feel you are not getting a level of salary that reflects your responsibilities, or if you feel it is not on par with your peers.
    • Status: while some of us would enjoy having a legion of minions, no-one really enjoys feeling like a dogsbody!
    • Security: if you are constantly worried about losing your job, then your days are filled with fear, which is an unpleasant and unhappy emotion.

Interestingly, all these factors are not part of the work itself, they are external factors, and they are all related to our basic physiological needs for food, shelter, safety and sense of belonging.  Herzberg called them hygiene factors, but also referred to them as “KITA” factors, an acronym for Kick In The Ass.  This is because he saw these levers being used by managers to provide either incentives or punishments to get their employees to do something.  He was very wise though to note that they can only ever result in short term success, because the true motivators for action are inherent to the job itself.  True motivation comes from within the person, and not from external punishments or rewards.  For this reason carrot and stick incentives are both short sighted and short lasting.

Something For You To Try

The list of dissatisfaction factors provide a great starting point to help us pinpoint exactly what is good, and not so good about our jobs and workplaces.  So, spend some time reviewing this list more closely and identify:

  1. any factors that are positive for you – and take a little time to be grateful for these
  2. any factors that are a problem in your work.  It is only when you identify the problems that you can take actions to fix them.

Stay tuned for the next post to find out what the factors are in your job that will create happiness!  In the meantime though, here is a little bit of healthy cynicism, Dilbert style!




  1. Pingback: The Foundations of Happiness « How To Be Happy At Work - June 10, 2011

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