Economics is usually considered a basically quantitative affair: numbers, charts graphs. It is rare that professional economists remember that there are real people under those pompous numbers, real communities and families who suffer if times get bad. Frederick Herzberg’s (1959) two level theory on worker satisfaction, while not specifically from the field of economics, is important in rectifying this imbalance: in general, Herzberg’s theory of motivation and hygiene is a qualitative set of ideas that speak not merely of numbers, efficiency and production, but also the qualitative nature of worker satisfaction and reward which is far more important than anything the numbers suggest.
This paper will deal with a few ideas related to employee control and ownership over business and its relation to Herzberg’s variables in terms of worker satisfaction.
First, the nature of the theory itself. Herzberg deals with the concepts of worker satisfaction through both motivation and hygiene. The former deals primarily with questions of satisfaction through what is to come: promotion, recognition, rewards, increases in pay. The latter is more quantitative, but still of immense qualitative importance: basic job security, good work environment and the expectation of future satisfaction (Herzberg, 1959).
Herzberg’s findings show, insofar as immediate causality is concerned, that the former are key to satisfaction on the job. The latter are important, but only indirectly, they do not (in themselves) lead to any sense of job satisfaction, but any qualitative lowering of these variables can lead to substantial dissatisfaction. However this is stated, they are both of immense importance.
Second, this paper must deal with the present economic crisis. The issues here involve the increasing debt of the American economy, as well as the American state. The present economic crisis can be summarized by the extension of credit far beyond the economy’s ability to repay. But this extension of credit came into existence in order to absorb excess production, as well as maintain America’s central role in the global economy as the “world’s marketplace.” All of this has led to an explosion of public and private debt, massive foreclosures, bankruptcy and, most important, a major threat to the integrity of the American dollar and America’s role in the world economy.
As of 2009, this has meant that the US economy is in a period of contraction, as firms no longer have the ability to extend credit with any sense of the possibility of being repaid. Once the banks got the jitters over this, they sent signals throughout the economy that confirmed the contraction of credit: the lifeblood the modern economy for better or for worse, especially in the real estate market.
Debt artificially inflated prices (including stocks), leading to an overvaluation far beyond the actual value of the commodities. But, since the US market is the world’s largest and the savings rate the lowest, there is little to cushion such a accumulation of debt, and hence, it affected America’s major trading partners as well, leading to a global recession and indeed, depression.
Now, third, the remainder of this paper will deal with the relation between Herzberg’s two level theory and the present depression. Unfortunately, this is where things get depressing, and the economists obsession with numbers that don’t have personalities start to make sense. Let us begin with the first level, that of motivators:
Since, in general, this depression is based on the massive and irrational expansion of credit (and hence, debt), debt must be the first issue in dealing with motivators. If one has run up credit card debt and has seen the interest rate shoot up as banks seek to make up lost ground, the issue of default is a real one. This develops as a negative motivating factor that will not be made up anytime soon. One sees himself as laboring harder and harder while unable to keep up even with the interest in various debts: credit cards, homes, cars and luxuries such as entertainment systems.
But just as important, if one is working just to finance debt, one can not also help but notice the fact that class differences in the western world are getting sharper and sharper. The wealthy classes can weather such storms, and in fact, may benefit from them, seeing their smaller competitors go into receivership. Hence, the first positive motivating factor is for class divisions to be reduced: the wealthy, whose practices helped bring the current crisis about, need to begin assisting labor in the payment of debts.
While high profile cases such as Bill Gates and Warren Buffett giving billions to their own charities that reflect their personal and corporate ideological positions, none of this high profile giving assists the rank and file laborer. It is possible that substantial profit sharing and employee ownership of businesses should be mandatory and guaranteed by the state in exchange for worker loyalty.
The question of employee ownership (hence, disenfranchising the major stock holders) is an important one given the confines of Herzberg’s theory of motivators, since such an approach will provide a certain emotional boost, as well as solve the problem of employee recognition and promotion. Employee ownership and employee direction of business is essential to assist workers in paying debts and increasing job satisfaction, since they will be working for themselves. Jobs should become careers rather than merely slaving for a living. Giving workers a say in the day to
day running of business and a financial stake in the firm itself is essential for increasing productivity. It will certainly come at the expense of the upper classes, but it is these classes that have benefitted from the long standing extension of credit that has fueled the western economic bubble.