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Sirota Three-Factor Theory

High enthusiasm at work usually shows itself in a willingness to work hard. So have you seen people begin new jobs with lots of enthusiasm, ready to start contributing, but then watched as they’ve lost that motivation?

Unfortunately, this is common. And it can lead to serious problems for managers, as they struggle to motivate frustrated, indifferent, uncooperative, and unproductive team members. Close supervision, motivational speeches, reward programs, progressive discipline, and departmental transfers – these are all things that managers can try. However, these strategies are often ineffective.

Sirota's Motivation Theory
Pride in a job well done.

Dr David Sirota, an organizational researcher and consultant, conducted extensive research into ways of motivating employees, using surveys of more than 4,000,000 workers around the world – as well as focus groups, interviews, case studies, and informal observations. In his 2005 book, The Enthusiastic Employee, he concluded that the way to enthuse workers is to give them what they want.

Sirota’s Three-Factor Theory of Human Motivation in the Workplace is based on three fundamental principles:

  • The organization’s goals are not in conflict with the workers’ goals.
  • Workers have basic needs that organizations should try to meet.
  • Staff enthusiasm is a source of competitive advantage.
To understand Sirota’s theory, it’s important to recognize the starting point: that most people start a new job with high levels of motivation and enthusiasm, and that they generally want to enjoy what they do. Sirota argues that this natural state of high motivation is then reduced, over time, by bad practices and poor conditions within the organization.

According to Sirota, the following three factors drive people’s enthusiasm:

  • Equity/Fairness – People want to be treated fairly at work.
  • Achievement – They want to do important, useful work, and be recognized for this.
  • Camaraderie – They want to enjoy good relationships with their co-workers.

Factor One: Equity/Fairness

People are motivated by fair treatment, and they want their company to provide basic conditions that respect their physiological, economic, and psychological needs.

Sirota’s surveys included questions about physical working conditions, job security, the amount of work expected, compensation, communication, favoritism, and the consistency of management’s actions and words.

The equity factor is very similar to the hygiene factors described by Frederick Herzberg in his Motivation-Hygiene Theory.

According to Sirota, to ensure that your organization demonstrates equity, you need to address all four of the following fairness elements:

Physiological Safety

Ensure the physical safety of workers.

  • Create safe working conditions.
  • Establish expectations that give your staff a reasonable work/life balance.
  • Make sure you meet all workplace safety requirements.
  • Provide safety training on a regular basis.

Economic Security

Provide a reasonable level of job security.

  • Consider all possible alternatives before laying off workers.
  • Ask for voluntary layoffs when layoffs are inevitable.
  • Communicate openly and honestly about layoffs.
  • Provide outplacement and financial support for staff who have lost their jobs.
  • Maintain the fairness needs of the workers who remain.

Provide Fair Compensation

  • Pay competitive wages, and keep up with inflation.
  • Where appropriate, include some variable pay (bonuses) for performance. (See our members’ article on Understanding Strategic Compensation for more on this.)
  • Allow workers to share in company success through stock ownership or other profit-sharing programs.
    Sirota’s theory is strong on compensation. He doesn’t believe (as some others do) that money is low on the list of motivating factors. His theory says that pay represents respect and achievement, not just the ability to purchase life’s necessities.

Psychological Health

Create an environment of respect.

  • Treat all staff similarly, regardless of how much power they have.
  • Use power fairly.
  • Minimize status distinctions in the workplace – for example, by avoiding separate parking lots or eating areas.
  • Provide sufficient autonomy and independent work.
  • Pay attention to what staff say they want and need. (Management By Wandering Around (members’ article) is an effective way to stay in touch with workers’ needs.)
  • Provide positive feedback (members) and recognition.
  • Show interest in workers, and insist on common courtesy.

Factor Two: Achievement

People want to be proud of their work, and they want their achievements to be acknowledged. They also want to feel proud of what the organization as a whole achieves.

Sirota asked workers questions about the amount and type of feedback they received, how participative their work environment was, whether adequate resources were provided, and how proud they were of their company.

To help people feel this sense of achievement, an organization needs to do four things:

Provide an Enabling Work Environment

Give people what they need to do the job well.

  • Use teams effectively.
  • Use participative leadership practices.
  • Make the organization as flat as possible. In other words, eliminate bureaucracy and hierarchy where you sensibly can.
  • Delegate effectively, and avoid micromanagement.

Provide challenging work.

Allow people to do interesting work that uses their skills and abilities.

  • Hire people based on fit (members).
  • Design jobs to be enriched and satisfying.
  • Communicate how each job contributes to the company as a whole.
  • Provide training, and opportunities for people to learn new skills.

Use Feedback, Recognition, and Reward

Let people know how they’re doing.

  • Communicate clear expectations.
  • Establish and agree on priorities.
  • Use tangible rewards to acknowledge achievement.
  • Balance criticism with plenty of praise.
  • Promote from within, where possible.

Read more about giving feedback (members).

Be an Organization of Purpose and Principles

People want to work for trustworthy companies that they can be proud of.

  • Create a vision that can make workers proud.
  • Communicate the principles of the company.
  • “Walk the talk.”
  • Adopt and apply ethical leadership (members).
  • Provide a quality product or service, and use good management practices.

Factor Three: Camaraderie

When people go to work, they want to enjoy themselves, and that makes interpersonal relationships very important. A culture that supports and encourages cooperation, communication, friendliness, acceptance, and teamwork is critical for maintaining enthusiasm. As such, partnership needs to be an important part of company culture.

Partnership Culture

Workers want to feel a sense of community and teamwork.

  • Make “people skills” a priority. Demonstrate empathy, consideration, and respect – and expect the same from every worker.
  • Encourage interactions, and provide social opportunities.
  • Reward positive team behaviors.
  • Encourage cross-functional interaction and teamwork.
  • Review department mandates and practices regularly to ensure consistency in the approach and message.
  • Use team charters to develop clear ground rules.
  • Use collaborative conflict resolution and win-win negotiation techniques to resolve differences.

By creating an environment that addresses all three factors for enthusiasm, you can better ensure high worker satisfaction, motivation, and productivity. However, these factors are not independent of one another: You can’t ignore compensation needs and expect to make up for it with increased camaraderie. Likewise, you can’t allow a manager to treat her staff poorly, even though you recognize achievement well.

One of Sirota’s findings is that the equity elements are most fundamental, and you must address them before adding other enthusiasm factors.

Key Points

Enthusiasm, as a measure of worker motivation and productivity, is central to Sirota’s Three-Factor Theory.

Rather than believing that you somehow have to motivate people to do work, this theory assumes that everyone starts out motivated – but that other things then happen, or don’t happen, that reduce this natural motivation.

To rebuild worker enthusiasm, leaders and managers must create an environment that delivers high levels of equity, achievement, and camaraderie. When people are treated fairly, are proud of the work they do, and do it with people they like, then enthusiasm grows – along with morale and productivity.


May 6, 2010 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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