Why Message Hygiene is a Hygiene Factor

I was interviewed recently by an IT Industry Analyst who wanted to know how our new Exchange Hosted Services work. While preparing for the interview I realised how important it has become to protect yourself and others from email spam, viruses, phishing attacks and other internet-borne nasties. And the penny really dropped when talking about 'message hygiene' reminded me of Hertzberg's 'hygiene factor' analysis and I was struck by the links between the two.

Way back in the 1950's an American academic called Frederick Herzberg put forward his Two Factor Theory that argued that people are influenced in the workplace by two things: motivators which lead to satisfaction (growth, recognition, achievement) and hygiene factors which can, if not acceptable, lead to dissatisfaction (salary, relationships, working conditions). What made this study so interesting is that Herzberg contended that the opposite of being dissatisfied is not 'being satisfied' but 'being not dissatisfied'. Thus he concluded that improving unacceptable hygiene factors will not make employees more motivated, only less dissatisfied. The route to creating contented employees is firstly to ensure that the basic hygiene factors are satisfactory, then introduce motivators that can ultimately make people feel fulfilled.

Likewise, providing message hygiene to employees (i.e. ensuring that electronic business communications do not carry spam, viruses and other bad things) only addresses a basic hygiene factor. Staff won't rise up in praise of the IT department when they no longer receive unwanted spam emails; they'll simply be less dissatisfied. Worse still, failing to eliminate email nasties may result in demotivated employees and detract from the motivational programmes put in place elsewhere.

So if message hygiene is just a hygiene factor, why do IT departments spend so much time fighting email nasties? There's absolutely zero added value to be gained from eliminating them. No commercial advantage is ever won. Sure, not doing it could bring your business to its knees, but doing it won't make it any better. All you can ever hope to achieve is to remove one potential source of employee dissatisfaction.

Wouldn't it make more sense for smart IT people to spend their time focussing on motivators, like better tools that make other employees' work more enjoyable or programmes that help them gain the recognition they crave?

IT departments shouldn't still be worrying about message hygiene. They should deal with it with automated tools that free up their time to focus on more value-adding activities.

If you'd like to find out more about how Microsoft's helps businesses deliver messaging hygiene without the effort visit http://www.microsoft.com/exchange/services.