Professional Hygiene Factors

Mike Peluso
11 min readFeb 25, 2019

For most professionals, their job requires high levels of interactions with other professions where each person helps find a solution to a specific need based upon what they collectively have to offer. It really doesn’t matter the industry. There is usually nothing unique about these ritualized interactions that happen millions of times every day across our economy. Professional number one interacts with professional number two. They sort of look alike, act alike, and even interact similarly. That’s the professional class, things get more interesting with interactions between professionals and a member of John Q Public who is not in the professional class. The clash really happens from differing value systems.

One value that is different between the professional class and someone from a the modern proletariat is personal presentation. It’s going to be a long while before nose rings, facial tattoos, and ear stretching is seen on the VIPs of the corporate world. These folks, especially the ones fighting personal demons like addiction or some other mental issue may have one more challenge with presentation that can be invasive. I’m talking about personal hygiene. Dragon breath or body odor that is so rank it pulls wallpaper off the walls and clears a room is not unheard of in a certain class of person. A complete lack of personal hygiene can make any interaction a torturous experience. In the same way that personal hygiene can make an environment untenable, organizational hygiene factors can do the same thing at work.

According to Seth Goden, A hygiene factor is something you miss when it’s gone, but barely notice when it’s there. Obviously in addition to business, it also sounds a bit how you would politely discuss the situation when cletus walks in after a week on the construction job without comprehending the value of deodorant. So I guess the term works well but the concept is a bit more technical when you do the deep dive.

From Wikipedia:

The two-factor theory (also known as Herzberg’s motivation-hygiene theory and dual-factor theory) states that there are certain factors in the workplace that cause job satisfaction, while a separate set of factors cause dissatisfaction. It was developed by psychologist Frederick Herzberg, who theorized that job satisfaction and job dissatisfaction act independently of each other.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a theory in psychology proposed by Abraham Maslow in his 1943 paper “A Theory of Human Motivation” in Psychological Review. [/caption]

Hygiene factors as you have just read are half the story. After you take care of hygiene factors, the flip side is motivational factors. Together they are actually an adaption of our old friend Mr. Maslow’s theory, something I’ve written about before as it related to work ethic. Hygiene factors, sometimes called maintenance factors, equals psychological, safety, and belonging needs. They are the bottom three rungs of the Maslow model. When we discuss Maslow’s theories, after our base needs are met we have a need to accomplish things to achieve the top two levels of happiness, or self actualization. The motivational factors, i.e. the things that help someone achieve esteem and self actualization are the higher levels of the Maslow pyramid.

But what does it mean in the real world?

Theory over, welcome to the reality of work. Where does modern business screw hygiene factors up for the professional class? I.e. what is expected but not there? What is on the employees but shouldn’t be? Since the absence of hygiene factors = unhappiness at work we have to look at the things that make people unhappy or another way of asking the question is: What needs to be present to ensure a reasonable level of satisfaction? There are some very obvious answers to these questions among them are pay and traditional benefits. Even in today’s highly flexible workforce, some measure of Job security is also needed. After a bit of time on the job, socialization is somewhat important, without human social interactions, even perfunctory ones, workplaces can become incredibly unpleasant. I also think there needs to be some level of meeting the needs of the human component. I can’t quantify it other than to say you need elements like privacy provided by things like doors and some measure of flexibility in the job, especially as the scope of professionals responsibilities are ever expanding.

I think about this list, and the thoughts that come to my mind is that a lot of it is missing. Any economist will tell you that wages have stagnated in real terms. Yes, there have been increases but quality of life has not gone up on average as inflation has eliminated the benefits of more dollars in the paychecks. That’s not the fault of employers. In fact it’s honestly a bit surprising that we’ve been able to keep things as good as they have been when you consider the growth of automation and international competition. The challenge is the things outside of wages. The growth in the cost of healthcare has forced employers to run screaming from providing that benefit, and the ones that do are moving to high deductible plans to help mitigate the insane and unsustainable rising costs. What does this mean in real terms? Well in reality there has been a march for as long as I can remember where the annual ritual of open enrollment is more about answering the questions of ‘How much more is it going to be?’ and ‘What did they take from us this year?’. Multiple types of PTO have become a single bank of use it or lose it time. Not a bad scenario for flexibility, but again, the aggregate is a lessening of the total benefits of time. The biggest offender here is the transition to the just-in-time workforce. It’s really hard to build any equity at all in any aspect of your professional life if your time at a single job is measured in a year or two. I’ve vented about the changes in the modern workforce since I started my work on the collision points between work and life, so I won’t go on and on again here. I will say that the point is the biggies for developing hygiene/maintenance for the professional class have shrunk. It really underscores the idea that many more employers used to take deep pride in caring for their people and so all the hygiene factors existed because people were people. Now the practical reality is that the the business is the paramount point of focus and the people exist for solely for the business so these factors aren’t necessary. People, even hyper specialized people, are easy to replace. I guess that’s the biggest missing hygiene factor of all, humanity.

The lack of a focus on the human element and all that’s needed by professionals isn’t universal in the professional world. Some business get it right. In my experience they tend to be the smaller business, the ones where they are big enough to provide long term stable employment but excel style management hasn’t taken over.

Motivation Factors: The Flip Side

So the hygiene factors are shrinking. That’s not a big surprise for anyone who is a long term reader of this blog or ardent thinker in the subjects of economics and business. There is another side to this theory. The motivational factors, the things that create satisfaction.

I got to say that in my experience, Ice pops in hot manufacturing environments doesn’t do it when it comes to really motivating teams.

I think a big one is really sharing in the equity growth. the multi-levels get this one perfectly. Multi-level organizations understand that a big motivating factor is owning a small part of what people are working towards. In nearly all multi-level organizations the individual is benefiting directly from all of the growth they are personally Involved with creating. They get a piece of all of the profit of everyone under them. Nobody actually owns a piece of the company, just direct benefit from the size of the sales organization they are growing. The flipside from Corporate America is when you get stock options. I’m not talking about huge chunks of stock that CEOs get. I’m talking about a smallish number of shares that’s a bit like a profit sharing bonus. There are others that are not as expensive as giving a little bit of ownership to the goose that is laying the golden egg. Among these are recognition, flexibility to achieve great things, or even little things like flexibility to telecommute, opportunities for advancement, whether real or more symbolic. Being challenged is also important to the type of people who like to be challenged.

There are a lot of variables involved with being able to provide this type of satisfaction and motivation. For example smaller organizations don’t have a lot of opportunity for advancement. If it’s a family company and you’re not part of the family, forgetaboutit! If it’s a mature organization that manages everything by the numbers, there’s not going to be a lot of flexibility or creativity allowed. HR in both of these organizations may understand what’s missing, but it may just simply not be possible structurally. These variables are why the separate nature of the two factor theory is so important.

The problem with it being two factors and the big secret to success.

The great challenge with it being two factors is that hygiene factors can actually anchor you to the job. If you have a place that offers good healthcare and paid time off but comes with a tedious or inflexible work environment *ahem* government job *ahem*, then you may not be able to move to a place to get your needs met by the motivational factors.

The challenge is that we need both. We need Hygiene Factors, and Motivational Factors. That’s extremely difficult to find. Hygiene factors can exist, but the ever more competitive nature of our world means that they are constantly being reevaluated as to their sustainability. Not all organizations provide comprehensive motivational factors. Everyone’s mix is unique. That’s actually a point in our favor when it comes to the world. Yes, there are some standards like good employer provided health care but if your spouse has solid health care and he or she can cover the family, then you may not see that as a hygiene factor for yourself. The goal is to figure out what’s most important for you but not stop there. You have to look at that as a starting point. As the habit for highly effective people goes, begin with the end in mind. That means understand both what is your most important hygiene factors, and then figure out what your own personal motivational factors are. When you look at your job, your career, and your life, you’ve got to figure out how to start at one and then get to the other without losing the first one.

For example, you might start with a multi-level organization or as a contract creative somewhere. Great motivational factors, but no healthcare, no paid time off. If you produce at very high levels you have a great life but if the company decides to terminate your highly lucrative ‘independent agent’ contract, then your SOL. You may get that nice stable job you can keep forever, but pay or flexibility or an interesting environment may be lacking. Think window attendant at a municipal utility. If you are the customer service agent at the county water office, you can keep that job forever and retire quite well.

In this case the secret is to leverage A into B. Many people get this but they don’t actively plan for it. They sort of feel their way through it. They do the boring and stable job for a while and decide they need something that motivates them. The opposite end of the spectrum is that they can get the motivational job but the instability, the lack of hygiene factors starts to wear over time. The misstep is when someone jumps from a job heavy with motivational factors to one that’s heavy with stability but loses the motivational factors or vice versa. They take what they had for granted and lose it in the transition. This is where the planning and being thoughtful comes in. Going back to the creative, if you are the independent contractor and love that because there is so much self actualization in the day to day of the job, how do you add in the hygiene factors? The answer is simple, go figure out exactly what hyper stable organizations have lots of creative jobs similar to what you do. Maybe your an event planner for a local hotel with a crazy up and down schedule and related up and down benefits? I’m sure there are some large uber-stable organizations with great hygiene factors that have event planners. Figure out how to get there. If your working at the local water department, but want to be more fulfilled, where in that department or in that government organization is there a place that can scratch your actualization itch? Maybe you wish to help the community by engaging more. I’m sure there is a place within social services that would be easier for you to move to with some outreach.

I really believe that this is why jobs like College Professor are rated as one of the highest. They include high levels of both motivational factors and hygiene factors, assuming your not an adjunct. They are a big category, but most of the jobs that include high level motivation and hygiene factors are niche spots. It takes a while to know about these little hidden gems, let alone the time it takes to get into them. This is why awareness of two factor theory is so important. The odds are the job you have gotten yourself into is heavy on one or the other factor and unless you have extreme fortitude it’s hard to stay in a job like that for the long term. Once you land the job, I would recommend that you spend some time figuring out which factors are missing on your personal list and how you can leverage your existing job to get to one that checks more of the two factor boxes. The sooner you set your goal the sooner you can get there. Once your there, aside from having to deal with little annoyances like co-workers with dragon breath you’ll have achieved one of the rare prizes in life, a great job that’s really fulfilling!

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Mike Peluso

Mike Peluso writes is about the collision between the professional world and life. Read more at or listen to the Peluso Presents Podcast