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February 17, 2019

Hygiene is a key factor in organisations

I’ve been thinking a lot about hygiene recently. Organisational hygiene. What got me thinking about this was hygiene in a more basic sense. I have now worked inside five large businesses in the region where the washroom facilities are truly appalling.

 Washrooms where men and women share facilities and there are no door locks. Where anything you have to use must daily be brought from home. Where the plumbing doesn’t work, or overflows to produce sewage waterfall of sewage that runs down the staircase.

 These are neither poor companies nor evil. They’re successful and well intentioned in terms of their contribution to clients and to society. Each of them invests in corporate social responsibility programmes. But their employees remind me, using a piece of traditional wisdom, that charity should begin at home.

 Such circumstances arise, or are perpetuated, because senior management is adept at providing for itself. There are few boardrooms that possess proper bathrooms, usually maintained through commercial contracts that provide soap, paper towels and even wall mounted dispensers that squirt out small amounts of perfume at regular intervals. These can be quite alarming: I often think there is someone else in the room trying to attract my attention.

 I recently took a photograph in one such executive bathroom. It shows pastel colours and smart cubicles in light oak. On one of the cubicle doors someone has written ‘Directors Only’ in felt pen. So wrong, on so many counts!

 Anyway, poor washrooms for staff reminded me of the work of Frederick Herzberg in 20th century Philadelphia, which focused on understanding industrial mental health. He separated factors that create satisfaction and those that create dissatisfaction, and proclaimed them independent. Herzberg distinguished between:

Motivators: Challenging work, recognition, responsibility, opportunity, involvement and feeling important to the organisation.

Hygiene factors: Status, job security, salary, benefits, work conditions, health insurance. These don’t lead to higher motivation, but dissatisfaction results from their absence.

Any company will have one of four possible combinations:

High hygiene and motivation: The ideal situation where employees are highly motivated and have few complaints.

High hygiene and low motivation: Staff rarely complain but lack motivation. They live for pay day.

Low hygiene and high motivation: Employees are motivated but have a lot of complaints. The job may be exciting and challenging but salaries and work conditions are not up to par.

Low hygiene and low motivation: This is the worst situation where employees are not motivated and have many complaints.

This goes some way to explaining why so many CEOs lament low employee productivity "despite all we have done for them".

If you’re an employer digesting that insight, may I also suggest that you take a moment to check your staff washrooms?


 Chris Harrison leads The Brand Inside.

He helps organisations to deliver their brands through their people.

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