I recently came across a 2014 article from The Atlantic Journal by Kevin Roose titled; The Woes of Wall Street; Why Young Bankers are so Miserable. Roose claims to have spent three years shadowing a group of young Wall Street workers. (That might have needed some explaining down at the precinct). He concluded that the (a) hours, (b) lack of security, and (c) absence of purpose, all contributed to depression and health problems amongst his subjects. Without exception they expressed a desire to quit and said that working in finance was ruining the pleasures of a normal life.
Roose added in this piece, it might sound strange, but many young people come to Wall Street expecting to make the world a better place.
It certainly does sound strange. And I wonder at the naivety in expecting to find the opportunity to become a young Ghandi or Jonas Salk in the halls of Goldman Sachs.
But I digress. Roose concluded that money was not a motivator for the young Wall Street workers.
So where have we heard all this before? In 1968 Frederick Herzberg said that money was not a motivator in a famous article; One More Time, How Do You Motivate Employees? He made a distinction between extrinsic satisfiers or hygiene factors and intrinsic motivators and then spent many years explaining that while money mattered, it did not inspire any boost in productivity. Pay, conditions and reasonable security stopped work motivation going backwards but they did not assist it to go forward. Other factors might provide that positive ‘kick in the ass’ and these included being interested, being recognised and sensing some purpose in the work.
Why did Herzberg use the term hygiene factor? My favourite explanation of this came from a talk given by Warner Burke, an early teacher in the subject of Organisation Development. He said that hygiene factors were to motivation what washing our hands before eating was to fried chicken. The action of washing our hands would not make the chicken taste better but it might stop us from becoming sick due to poor food handling.
Herzberg’s words about pay and motivation made perfect sense to me. I once had the joyous task of handing out pay increase letters around the office. Did these letters produce wild and crazy dancing on the spot? Did anyone say to themselves, ‘My goodness! A pay rise! Well, I‘ll just work that bit harder and smarter to justify this.’ Nope. Not a bit of it. Envelopes were sometimes snatched from my hands with accompanying grizzles such as ‘about time too’ and ‘when’s the next one?’ The distance in time between the motivating impact of a pay rise and the demotivating impact of a pay rise was the average time taken to discover a co-worker’s better result.
The first time I saw a film clip of Herzberg was in my early undergraduate days. I thought he seemed to be stumbling around a lecture stage like a drunk. Perhaps he was. I later discovered he was among the first soldiers to arrive at Dachau concentration camp at the end of WW2. He later said that this experience, and talking with ordinary Germans, led to his fascination with human motivation. Given that experience, and the sights that must surely have haunted all his days, I wonder what he would make of those young people on Wall Street, so free to resign and experience the pleasures of a normal life.