Leaving because of bad hygiene?


Planned Resources recruit across the niche markets of planning, engineering, architecture and design, property, and government support. We operate across private and public sectors in Melbourne, Victoria, and Australia. Here, our Director Russell Locke looks at workplace “hygiene” and employee motivators.

As a recruiter we spend a large part of our week catching up with candidates. One of the things that we establish is what’s making them talk to us in the first place, or conversely what’s making them want to leave their current employer.

While not trained psychologists, it seemed to us that candidates typically fell into one of two main streams when they were approaching a recruiter. They were either “pushed” away from their current employer and wanted to leave because of something the company was/wasn’t doing; or they were “pulled” towards something an alternate employer could offer them.

We assumed that the push/pull factor was a linear scale of job happiness, where a low score meant people were “pushed”/wanted to leave, whilst a high score meant candidates were generally happy, and could only be enticed by something super-special. Psychologist, Frederick Herzberg (Herzberg’s Dual Factor Theory, 1959), however suggested that work happiness wasn’t a linear scale but rather 2 separate components which he called “hygiene” and “motivators”, which worked independently from a happiness perspective.  Managers therefore had to consider both components when looking at staff retention rather than focusing on just one angle.


Herzberg defined hygiene as factors whose presence (or absence) would quite frankly piss you off and make you not want to go to work.  Feeling that you were underpaid, low job security, poor working conditions, bad culture or micro-management were all things that Herzberg put into this category.

Hygiene factors within an organisation once they take hold tend to be prevalent across large parts of the organisation, is usually grouped into “bad culture” and often cause a consistent flow of resignations.


Motivating factors typically refer to long -term motivators as opposed to short-term incentives (which whilst effective will only stimulate whilst they are a novelty), so motivators include challenge and achievement in the role, projects they’re working on, advancement in career and skills, and recognition.

These factors are more things that will make people happy in work, keeping them engaged in what they do.  Their absence won’t make people leave immediately, but if not checked over a long period of time, will cause general dissatisfaction and a general feeling of malaise when going to work, and eventually cause people to leave.

Motivating factors can be harder to resolve and take more effort on behalf of the employer.  Individuals are motivated by different things, and what motivates one employee, may not motivate (and in some cases demotivate) another employee, so companywide approaches aren’t as effective.  It requires managers to understand the drivers of their individual team members, ideally by having some level of personal connection with their staff, in conjunction with having longer term management tools to track an employee’s goals and aspirations.

The 4 states

By using the 2 scales as opposed to 1, you get 4 possible scenario’s.

  1. Low Hygiene/Low Motivators – Worst scenario, employees hate their job and have no incentive to stay.
  2. Low Hygiene/High Motivators – Employees will find some satisfaction from their work but will be ground down by the “hygiene/culture” to the point where they leave.
  3. High Hygiene/Low Motivators – Employees are well paid, have nice offices and like their team but find their work mundane/unrewarding/unchallenging.  Whilst they may not leave immediately, longer term they are potentially going to be pulled towards new more challenging opportunities.
  4. High Hygiene/High Motivators – Best scenario.  Employees like where they work and what they do.  Unlikely to leave.

By an employer identifying which state they are in, they are better able to target the root cause of their problem, potentially saving money at the same time.  For example, traditional management styles may potentially throw money at a generic “bad culture” problem by way of spot incentives, bonuses, Friday night drinks or other team bonding experiences.  If, however they are in a high hygiene/low motivator state, the root cause may be more around people feeling unchallenged in their roles and more responsive to a review of their promotion targets, of alteration in work duties/projects than bonuses.

Our opinion

Employers can help their staff retention by identifying where they sit on the two separate scales, and constantly review these, especially if they go through a bout of resignations.

It is also helpful for candidates to review where they feel their current employer sits on the scale before they approach a recruiter.  For example, candidates in a High Hygiene/Low Motivator state, like the company they work for, but aren’t feeling challenged – potentially this can be rectified by talking to their manager to see what projects they could get involved in, or what their promotion targets are.  Whilst candidates from a low hygiene/low motivator environment need to recognise that whilst they feel most job opportunities will feel like an improvement on their current situation they need to regroup and consider their next step so as not to jump out of the frying pan and into the fire.

Written by: Russell LockeDirector

0407 111 364 Russell.locke@plannedresources.com.au


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