Herzberg’s Two-Factor Theory of Motivation 1

Motivation-hygiene theory

“The human animal has two categories of needs. One set stems from his animal disposition, that side of him previously referred to as the Adam view of man; it is centered on the avoidance of loss of life, hunger, pain, sexual deprivation, and on other primary drives, in addition to the infinite varieties of learned fears that become attached to these basic drives. The other segment of man’s nature, according to the Abraham concept of the human being, is man’s compelling urge to realize his own potentiality by continuous psychological growth.” – Frederick Herzberg


Hygienic factors

In my previous job I did not get paid regularly. My salary was almost never on time and when I got paid it often was just part of what we had agreed on. Not knowing when I would get paid or even how much was worrying me because I was never sure if I could pay my rent the next month. The company struggled financially, mainly because there were no new projects coming in. That, however, led to a situation where I did not have much work to do, simply because there was none to do. This made me anxious because I was afraid of losing my job. In addition, the colleagues I was sitting with in an office, my supervisor and I had not many common interests. Combined with the worrying of everybody about losing their jobs as well and having no work to talk about, there was little communication at all. Being faced with this situation every day let me believe that this is normal. My motivation to go to work, however, was basically not existent.


Motivation factors

In another job I was given the responsibility to manage a project together with a colleague. It was challenging from time to time, but we were discovering how to help people in another organization to improve. It allowed me to personally grow by applying my skills and working on topics I was curious about. I was working with like-minded people and was recognized for what I was doing by my colleagues, supervisor and client. At the end of the day we could look back at our achievement to realize that we were making progress into the right direction. I felt engaged and valued which had a positive effect on my self-esteem. I could not wait to go to work every morning.


Herzberg’s two-factor theory of motivation

The two work experience examples above describe the two-factor theory of motivation developed by Frederick Herzberg. He published his findings in 1959 in his book ‘Work and the Nature of Man’. After conducting interviews with 200 engineers and accountants where they were describing job events that made them unusually good or bad in a previous job, Herzberg concluded that there are certain factors that cause work satisfaction and others that cause work dissatisfaction. The former he termed Motivation factors, the later Hygiene factors expressing that in order to have a healthy work environment and thus basic job satisfaction certain factors needed to be in place. The Hygiene and Motivation factors are listed in the following:


Hygiene factors Motivation factors
  • Salary
  • Security
  • Work conditions
  • Interpersonal relationships with co-workers and supervisor
  • Technical competence of supervisor
  • Quality of supervision
  • Company policies and practices
  • Responsibility
  • Advancement
  • Achievement
  • Recognition
  • Work itself
  • Personal growth


Satisfaction is not the opposite of dissatisfaction

Herzberg reasoned that satisfaction is not the opposite of dissatisfaction, instead it is no satisfaction.Therefore he came up with two individual factors: The Hygiene factors that prevent employees from becoming dissatisfied, as well as the Motivation factors that ensure that employees become satisfied. It is not an either or situation, but rather one where Motivation factors are building on the Hygiene factors. This is visualized in the following:


Herzberg two-factor theory of motivation

Herzberg two-factor theory of motivation: Hygiene factors and Motivation factors


Herzberg’s theory could also be explained with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, where the physiological, safety and security as well as social needs belong to the Hygiene factors and the esteem and self-actualization needs fall into the category of Motivation factors. Maslow actually presented this idea, but did not deliver any data to support his claim.


Absence of Hygiene factors causes dissatisfaction

What is interesting in Herzberg’s theory is that Hygiene factors have no positive impact on work satisfaction. However, their absence causes great dissatisfaction. This emphasizes the loss-aversion we humans have. The Hygiene factors are basically extrinsic prerequisites to achieve a basic level of job satisfaction that needs to be reinforced constantly.

And this makes intuitively sense. When we do not receive a salary that helps us covering our basic costs every month or no salary at all, there is simply no way we can be satisfied. The same is true for when we have to worry about losing our job every day. Further, since we are a social species, the relationships we have at work, where we spent most of our waking time, matter a lot. Last but not least, when company policies and practices hinder us from achieving our daily tasks it is simply an unsatisfying situation.


Motivation factors cause satisfaction

Since the Hygiene factors only have an influence on dissatisfaction, when the Motivation factors are in place job satisfaction is increased. The absence of Motivation factors does not decrease job satisfaction, but their presence can increase intrinsic attitudes and motivation of employees significantly.

The chance that employees are more engaged, motivated and satisfied with their job is greater when they are given responsibility, are recognized and valued for their achievements as well as are able to personally grow by applying their skills and work on tasks they find interesting.


Motivation and Hygiene

Based on Herzberg’s Two-factor theory of motivation and the two aspects of Hygiene factors and Motivation factors, there are four potential situations possible.

Herzberg Hygiene and Motivation factors


Criticism of theory

When Herzberg introduced his theory over 50 years ago the main critic was that he used a storytelling approach to present his findings and that the interviews were not analytically enough. It was claimed that he had a natural bias when selecting putting specific criteria into either Hygiene or Motivation factors. In addition, he was only interviewing white-collar workers.

However, the intuitive feeling we get from his theory is that it is valid. My work experiences have supported this view. Just the widespread use of this theory today to explain employee motivation shows that there is certain validity to it. Seeing it from another perspective it could also mean that there has been not much significant research in the area of employee motivation in an organizational context since the introduction of his theory.

Nevertheless, besides the intuitive feeling, there are multiple studies that replicated the results from Herzberg in a more quantitative way. Essentially same results were repeated in different countries and within different job groups, even with blue-collar workers. One particular study especially focusing on the individuality of people, another critique for Herzberg who only spoke about general human nature, found that different people satisfy different needs through their work. Their findings, however, show a general alignment with Herzberg’s Two Factor Theory of Motivation.

Another general critic is that when things go wrong we look to our environment, but when things go well we look to ourselves. When I found myself in an unsatisfying situation I first of all asked myself what I could have done in that situation. The result was a worsened self-esteem, because I could not find a solution and blamed it on me. This made me realize that I could not accept how things are and that the environment needed to change. However, when things went well it was due to my environment that provided me the opportunity to use my skills and realize my potential to the fullest.


How to create greater job satisfaction?

Herzberg provided mainly three aspects of creating greater job satisfaction. These were:

  • Job enlargement
  • Job rotation
  • Job enrichment


For job enlargement Herzberg brought forward the idea of removing control and at the same time increasing accountability and responsibility of the individual employees. Essentially he was relating to increasing the autonomy.


Job rotation was discussed in the ability of employees to create new units or projects that work on pressing problems. Herzberg encouraged a proactive attitude towards solving problems instead of being delegated to it by supervisors.


Herzberg saw a basic requirement for job enrichment in receiving direct and regular feedback on productivity and job performance. Interestingly he saw that feedback coming from peers, our co-workers, and not from supervisors. Another aspect is the encouragement of employees to take on new task that are challenging but provide the opportunity to grow personally. He saw a link of job enrichment and becoming an expert at a specific task; the intrinsic interest and fulfillment through work itself.


Did you know?

Herzberg was aslo found of saying that KITA, kick in the ass, does not produce motivation, only movement.

The mentioned study is:

Lundberg, C., Gudmundson, A. and Andersson, T. D. (2009) Herzberg’s Two-Factor Theory of Work Motivation Tested Empirically on Seasonal Workers in Hospitality and Tourism. Tourism Management, Vol. 30, no 6, p. 890-899.



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About Businesshumanizer

My name is Jens and I write about organizational evolution to inspire a way of organizing work that is human-centric. Find me at www.humanbusiness.eu

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One thought on “Herzberg’s Two-Factor Theory of Motivation

  • tharushi

    hey, i was searching about herzberg’s theory and found this. Its explain the theory simply and nicely and give good examples. thankyou.