Article Summary #23: Examining Herzberg’s theory: Improving job satisfaction among non-academic employees at a university

Citation:  Smerek, R., & Peterson, M. (2007). Examining Herzberg’s theory: Improving job satisfaction among non-academic employees at a university. Research in Higher Education, 48 (2), 229-250.

Summary:  Understanding and designing to optimize human capacity in higher education is a challenging obstacle when looking toward operational staff at a given university.  Herzberg’s duality their offers interesting insights but has yet to be actually proven sufficiently in general and less so within higher education.  Given the limited resources available in higher education, administrators must find ways of increasing job satisfaction to avoid the financial and human-resource loss of productive employees.

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This study studies the how Herzberg’s duality theory of motivators and hygiene might be useful to understanding and applicable to job satisfaction in higher education among business operational staff at a large public university.  In particular, the authors seek to explore the following considerations:  the influence of personal and job characteristics on job satisfaction, the greatest predictors of job satisfaction, and the ability to prove Herzberg’s theory in a higher education context.

This study consisted of a (mostly) online survey of 109 Likert-scale-like questions to 36 units under an executive vice president at a large, public research university with 2180 (79%) business operational employees responding.  

The authors revealed some general results about the survey including women were more satisfied than men in this area of higher education, while minorities reported less job satisfaction and older employees were better adjusted to their jobs and received more intrinsic value from their work.  Some positions and groups reported less satisfaction than others such as people facilities and operations and in particular, those in unions, who averaged lower positive responses in all 13 work environment dimensions explored in the survey (though salary had the smallest margin of difference).   The authors conclude that work environment factors prove more predictable to job satisfaction than personal characteristics with the work itself holding the most predictive power.  

Practical implications for this study include a need for administrators to focus on improving the work itself and a need to improve management through further development of communication, management, and decision-making skills with training.  This research’s theoretical implications highlight that Herzberg’s theory still proves not entirely perfect for applying to higher education and that being mindful of research design and methodology because it effects the research results in ways that seem to reinforce the researchers’ ideas rather than help distil accurate answers.  As Marshal McLuhan may have put it, “the methodology is the message.”

Keywords:  job satisfaction, quality of worklife, work climate, administrative staff, Herzberg, dual theory, motivation, motivators and hygiene  

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