Work; along with death and taxes, it's one of the few things in life that is a certainty for most. According to the United States Department of Labor (2010), the average American adult spends a greater portion of their life working than doing any other activity, so naturally job satisfaction is a key tenet of a happy life. In a recent article entitled "How Will You Measure Your Life", Harvard business school professor Clayton Christensen reported that on the last day of the classes he teaches, he asks his students to contemplate their goals in life and to find a cogent answer to the question "how can I be sure that I'll be happy in my career" (Christensen, 2010, p. 48)? In seeking to provide guidance for this question, Christensen eloquently summarized the work of Frederick Hertzberg, noting that “the powerful motivator in our lives isn't money; it's the opportunity to learn, grow in responsibilities, contribute to others, and be recognized for achievements” (Christensen, 2010, p. 48). While studying factors that affect employee motivation, Frederick Hertzberg (1987), proposed that the factors that create job satisfaction, which he calls motivators, are entirely separate from the factors that leads to job dissatisfaction, which he calls hygiene factors (p.9). The difference, Hertzberg reports, is that hygiene factors, also known as dissatisfaction avoidance factors, are factors that are necessary to get employees to show up for work, but do little to promote motivation beyond the minimum job requirements (pp. 8-13). Hygiene factors emanate from mankind's animal nature of self-preservation; they are extrinsic to the job and include: company policy and administration, supervision, working conditions, salary, team relationships, status, and security (p. 9). In contrast motivator factors promote employees internal desire to become much more involved and take a much more personal investment in workplace success. These factors are intrinsic to the job and include: achievements, recognition, work itself, responsibility, advancement, and growth. (Hertzberg, 1987, pp. 8-13).
For the employee it would seem obvious why job satisfaction is very important, but what about business; why should it consider the desires of it’s employees? Throughout the history of the Industrial Revolution, few topics have been as divisive as the treatment of employees. Early American economist Adam Smith was noted for popularizing the notion of specialized roles in early mills and factories, producing awareness of strategic planning to maximize human productivity (Witztum, 2010, p. 156). The landmark Hawthorne studies of the early twentieth century helped to create awareness that improvements in factory conditions can have a significant impact on employee motivation and output (Doyle, Pignatelli & Florman, 1985, p. 2). Yet despite evidence from research, a popular historical viewpoint on labor has been to simply drive as much possible output as could be forcibly obtained from the employee. Early corporate abuses of human rights led to the formation of unions and collective bargaining, which has resulted in many cases in increasing the discord between management and employees (Devinatz, 2011, p. 290). As noted by Devinatz (2011), unionization is generally not popular among employers, whose desire to avoid unionization resulted in efforts to promote better relations with employees; a notion that did not sit well with executives, many of whom saw the requests of unions as a form of pandering that could slow the growth of industry (p. 291). In this effort to promote positive relations with employees, businesses started to recognize that promoting job satisfaction was more than mere pandering to employees; measures that improve job satisfaction resulted in increasing creativity, productivity, and overall performance (Schusler, 1979, p. 247). Whitman, Van Rooy, & Viswesvaran (2010) report the findings of a meta-analytical study which thoroughly demonstrates that there is a significant relationship between job satisfaction and work unit performance; which along with other studies, the authors’ claim, has resulted in the reemergence of job satisfaction as a vital research topic (p. 41). Efforts to improve employee relations combined with increased study on organizational productivity also found that age, gender, and racial diversity can have a very positive impact on unit performance, as diversity can bring different skill sets, different tools, and also bring perspective from different bases of potential consumers, helping corporations to reach a larger addressable market (Reagans & Zuckerman, 2001, p. 502).
Beyond mere productivity improvements, employee treatment is a core tenet behind sustainable business practices which many modern economists believe are crucial to the very survival of businesses (Peck, 2011). Following the great depression of the early twentieth century, economist Joseph Schumpeter (1931) proposed that forces of creative destruction were the true force behind economic volatility (p. 179). In studying the observations of Schumpeter, Wiggins & Ruefli (2005) found that despite the best efforts of the most sophisticated managers in the business world, forces of creative destruction caused businesses fail over time (p. 895). What Schumpeter observed would later be popularized as the “disruptive technology theory” by Harvard professor Clayton Christensen, who proposed that creative destruction could be harnessed to build sustainable businesses that could withstand the “indefinite number of waves” proposed by Schumpeter (Diamond, 2006 pp. 15-16; Schumpeter, 1931, p. 179). While much of the popularity around the disruptive technology theory has been absorbed as mere product strategy, the core notion behind these efforts is to create a business model that can be sustainable over time (Christensen, Johnson & Rigby, 2002, pp. 22-31).
Today, the encampments of the Occupy Wall Street movement remind us that there is an urgent need to change the way the community views employers and the way that employers interact with the community and their employees (Bregman, 2011; Baldwin, 2011). And today, the effect of the hyper-competition era observed by Schumpeter, combined with the effects of management policies and financial markets that have prioritized short term enrichment over long-term sustainability and socioeconomic well-being are coming to a head. The sociopolitical, macro economical, and environmental results of hyper competition are threatening to tear the very fabric of society, which has resulted, finally, in increasing activism and increasing awareness that business and industry need to promote economic and social well-being (Edlund, 2011). This is not only for the good of the planet, but essential for the very survival of businesses, as research is increasingly demonstrating that all the shortsighted, greedy policies that have been employed by businesses are actually the factors that had been causing businesses to fail. Business is nothing more than a collection of individuals; its very purpose is to provide goods and services for the betterment of society. The whole can be greater than the sum of its parts, a business is not itself an entity with its own opinion, desires, emotions; it is a representation of the collective desires of the employees that execute its purpose, and the community that allows it to exist.
As a bystander, a mere observer of the turbulent economic times of the early 21st century, my hope is that, finally, the citizens of this world will rediscover the core essence of industry; business is not about promoting the well-being of a soulless, nonhuman entity, the very essence of business is based in humankinds inert desire for social interdependence to promote a happier, healthier world for all of mankind.
Baldwin, A. (2011). What Occupy Wall Street Has Taught Me. The Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/alec-baldwin/what-occupy-wall-street-h_b_1096920.html
Bregman, P. (2011). One Thing I’ve Learned from the Wall Street Protests. Harvard Business Review Blog Network. Retrieved from http://blogs.hbr.org/bregman/2011/11/occupy-wall-street-protests-wh.html
Christensen, C. M., Johnson, M. W., & Rigby, D. K. (2002). Foundations for Growth. MIT Sloan Management Review, 43(3), 22-31.
Christensen, C. M. (2010). How Will You Measure Your Life?. Harvard Business Review, 88(7/8), 46-51.
Christensen, C. M. (1997). The innovator's dilemma: When new technologies cause great firms to fail. Boston, Mass: Harvard Business School Press.
Devinatz, V. (2011). The Continuing Controversy over Right-to-Work Laws in the Early Twenty-First Century. Employee Responsibilities & Rights Journal, 23(4), 287-293. doi:10.1007/s10672-011-9185-z
Doyle, S. X., Pignatelli, C., & Florman, K. (1985). The Hawthorne Legacy and the Motivation of Salespeople. Journal Of Personal Selling & Sales Management, 5(2), 1.
Edlund, B. (2011). THE “GOOD COMPANY” – WHAT WILL DRIVE A NEW AND BETTER “GOOD?”. Arthur W. Page Society. Retrieved from http://www.awpagesociety.com/2011/11/the-%E2%80%9Cgood-company%E2%80%9D-%E2%80%93-what-will-drive-a-new-and-better-%E2%80%9Cgood%E2%80%9D/
Peck, J. (2011). Happiness and Your Company. Harvard Business Review Blog Network. Retrieved from http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2011/09/happiness_and_your_company.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+harvardbusiness+%28HBR.org%29
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Whitman, D. S., Van Rooy, D. L., & Viswesvaran, C. (2010). SATISFACTION, CITIZENSHIP BEHAVIORS, AND PERFORMANCE IN WORK UNITS: A META-ANALYSIS OF COLLECTIVE CONSTRUCT RELATIONS. Personnel Psychology, 63(1), 41-81. doi:10.1111/j.1744-6570.2009.01162.x
Wiggins, R. R., & Ruefli, T. W. (2005). SCHUMPETER'S GHOST: IS HYPERCOMPETITION MAKING THE BEST OF TIMES SHORTER?. Strategic Management Journal, 26(10), 887-911. doi:10.1002/smj.492
Witztum, A. (2010). Interdependence, the Invisible Hand, and Equilibrium in Adam Smith. History Of Political Economy, 42(1), 155-192.
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