Is It a Plus or a Minus?

On most days, I don’t shower in order to not feel dirty. I shower in order to feel clean. It may not sound like it, but there’s a difference.

If you’ve ever wasted away in bed for a few days, perhaps because you were sick, and then at one point, you couldn’t stand your greasy hair anymore and slowly lugged yourself into the shower, you took care of what Frederick Herzberg would have called a “hygiene factor” — pun present but not intended.

Herzberg developed a model of work motivation called “the two-factor theory,” and it stipulates that, in order to feel happy in our jobs, two things must come together: a lack of dissatisfaction and a presence of satisfaction. Hygiene factors are elements causing dissatisfaction if they’re not tuned correctly, whereas motivators are the elements causing satisfaction when they occur, and individual elements can be both hygiene factors and motivators at the same time.

Job safety is mostly a hygiene factor: You want to know you can still go into work tomorrow, but unless we’re in a recession, that’s not enough to make you jump with joy. Responsibility is mostly a motivator. A job without it where you do simple, repetitive tasks, can still be not-dissatisfying — but in order to take genuine pride in our work, we must first stick our neck out for something (or someone).

In other words, you need to both eliminate the minuses and add the pluses. Merely doing one or the other won’t do. In that sense, the most powerful determinants of our happiness at work are the elements doubling as both hygiene factors and motivators. Our relationships with colleagues, for example. If you enjoy seeing your team every day and have plenty of fun little interactions, that’s a huge reason to look forward to arriving at the office. If your teammates make your life a living hell, however, it not only makes you scared to go to work, it also prevents you from doing your work altogether, and much dissatisfaction ensues.

Income is another double-edged sword: You need at least a certain amount of it to get along financially and feel that your dignity is intact, but the more you get even well beyond those things, the more accomplished you’ll feel. It’s a sign of how good you are at your job and how much your firm values you, so the more, the better!

When I shower in the morning, I feel clean, fresh, awake, and ready to tackle my day. It allows me to get my first win before 8 AM, and it’s super easy to achieve.

I find the two-factor theory applies well beyond the confines of work. I can use the confidence I get from showering just as much when I’m trying to have a productive day cleaning up around the house, and if my weekends are so crammed with social activities that I barely have time to decompress, that makes them dissatisfying.

The next time you want to make a change, even a small one like taking a shower, ask yourself: Is it a plus or a minus? Am I doing this out of fear or out of love? Is it negative feelings I’m trying to get rid of, or are there some positive ones I hope to attain?

You need clarity about the pluses and minuses in your life, because only when you know salt from pepper can you add the right spice at the right time. Too much salt will spoil the broth, but add too little pepper, and it will taste just bland.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll make some soup — but first, I have to take a shower.