Can’t Get No Job Satisfaction

I am returning this month to one of my regular sources for subject matter to discuss in my personal Viewpoint feature, Professor Adrian Furnham’s weekly column in UK’s The Sunday Times.

It is entitled: “Can’t Get No Job Satisfaction at Work” and the title immediately caught my eye as finding the right career path, working effectively and contentedly whilst enjoying job security have always been issues for me because of my Asperger syndrome (AS).

The piece starts by referring to Frederick Herzberg’s theory of job satisfaction and how some things at work will only prevent job dissatisfaction. These he described as “hygiene factors”, those that satisfy extrinsic, i.e. non-essential needs. Others will encourage satisfaction and are known as “motivators” and fulfil intrinsic or, internal requirements.

With “hygiene” factors, Herzberg believed that supervision style, inter-personal relations, physical working conditions, salary, company policies benefits and job security are all relevant in the sense that they are concerned with the context in which the job has to be done.

When these are unfavourable, people are likely to be dissatisfied at work. When “hygiene” factors are positive barriers to job satisfaction are removed. However, the fulfilment of “hygiene” factors alone cannot bring full job satisfaction, only the reduction of dissatisfaction. According to Herzberg, they prevent the outbreak of disease, not cure it.

AS I read the article I wondered whether these – “hygiene” and “intrinsic” – factors could be the opposite in the case of a person with Asperger Syndrome, (AS). Though the issues are certainly important and relevant in the case a manager with AS, I believe they are quite significantly more pronounced and matter in a different way.

As a rule neuro-typical people are made dissatisfied by a poor physical environment, but are rarely satisfied by a good one, so prevention of dissatisfaction is just as important as encouraging satisfaction: you need both!

For someone with Asperger, I believe that it is not as straightforward as this. If the environment in which I work for example is not appropriate, I won’t just be dissatisfied, I am likely to be unable to work – at least optimally or satisfactorily if at all.

The piece then goes on to outline how on the other hand, “intrinsic” needs are fulfilled by motivator factors: achievement, recognition, the work itself, responsibility and advancement.

According to the theory, these are the factors that can satisfy an individual’s need for self-actualization (self-fulfilment) and designing work tasks so that they provide individuals with rewards that reinforce their aspirations is to key to performance.

I am not sure that these factors are as important for someone with Asperger syndrome in a work context, or even that important as a whole.

In the main, I would rather have a secure and appropriate work context than be in a position to endure unsatisfactory work conditions in return for a large salary.  I am not as the article asserts an individual who can be highly motivated in his work whilst being dissatisfied with his work context and environment.

According to Professor Furnham, for most people it is largely the opposite: positive motivator factors result in job satisfaction.   When recognition, responsibility and other motivators are absent from any job, the result will not necessarily be dissatisfaction, but neutrality.

Whilst I have always wanted to be recognised, looking back, excessive responsibility for example can, I believe, be a hindrance – at least initially. It can also be the source of stress and anxiety. In other words, unlike as stated in the article, “hygiene” and motivator factors are not unrelated and independent.

The next point made also reinforces this. “Hygiene” improvements may be short term – the positive effects of a pay-rise for example soon wear off for example. The jobs where I have worked longest, most effectively and where I have been happiest, are those where the work environment, conditions and my colleagues have been suitable and appropriate to me as a worker with AS.

However, I am also not sure that it is quite so straightforward as this. According to Professor Furnham, Herzberg’s theory has little empirical support and research has shown that both hygiene and motivator factors are required for satisfaction and/or dissatisfaction. This is because the theory says nothing about individual differences and this, I believe, is the case with AS.

As the article goes on to explain, Herzberg developed the concept of job enrichment, recommending that management design tasks in a way that build in the opportunity for personal achievement, recognition, challenge and individual growth so that workers gain more responsibility and autonomy.

Job enrichment consists of several measures such as motivation by responsibility. It includes giving each person a complete and natural module of work or motivation by achievement.   Enrichment means granting job freedom for a person’s own work – motivation by responsibility, achievement and recognition. It also implies giving feedback on performance to the worker instead of to the supervisor – motivation by recognition.

For a manager with Asperger syndrome, this means providing appropriate hygienic work conditions and intrinsic ones; for example, working independently, to a degree, in my own way.

In conclusion therefore, I don’t believe that intrinsic factors are irrelevant from the managerial perspective of someone with AS. Indeed, if the correct hygiene conditions are provided satisfactorily, it is appropriate intrinsic factors that can then assist in elevating individual performance to levels regarded by some as unobtainable.

As the article concludes by saying, real enrichment comes from introducing new tasks or motivation by growth and learning. It also means assigning specific tasks so an employee can develop expertise in performing them or motivation by responsibility, achievement and recognition.

As I have discovered, intrinsic factors can help me achieve this and more – once my hygiene requirements are in place first-of-all.

Managing with Asperger Syndrome