Reading: Herzberg’s Two-Factor Theory

Photo collage showing two pale towers viewed through a rainy window

American psychologist Frederick Herzberg is regarded as one of the great original thinkers in management and motivational theory. Herzberg set out to determine the effect of attitude on motivation, by simply asking people to describe the times when they felt really good, and really bad, about their jobs. What he found was that people who felt good about their jobs gave very different responses from the people who felt bad.

The results from this inquiry form the basis of Herzberg’s Motivation-Hygiene Theory (sometimes known as Herzberg’s “Two Factor Theory”). Published in his famous article, “One More Time: How do You Motivate Employees,” the conclusions he drew were extraordinarily influential, and still form the bedrock of good motivational practice nearly half a century later. He’s especially recognized for his two-factor theory, which hypothesized that are two different sets of factors governing job satisfaction and job dissatisfaction:  “hygiene factors,” or extrinsic motivators and “motivation factors,” or intrinsic motivators.

Hygiene factors, or extrinsic motivators, tend to represent more tangible, basic needs—i.e., the kinds of needs included in the existence category of needs in the ERG theory or in the lower levels of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Extrinsic motivators include status, job security, salary, and fringe benefits. It’s important for managers to realize that not providing the appropriate and expected extrinsic motivators will sow dissatisfaction and decrease motivation among employees.

Motivation factors, or intrinsic motivators, tend to represent less tangible, more emotional needs—i.e., the kinds of needs identified in the “relatedness” and “growth” categories of needs in the ERG theory and in the higher levels of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Intrinsic motivators include challenging work, recognition, relationships, and growth potential. Managers need to recognize that while these needs may fall outside the more traditional scope of what a workplace ought to provide, they can be critical to strong individual and team performance.

The factor that differentiates two-factor theory from the others we’ve discussed is the role of employee expectations. According to Herzberg, intrinsic motivators and extrinsic motivators have an inverse relationship. That is, intrinsic motivators tend to increase motivation when they are present, while extrinsic motivators tend to reduce motivation when they are absent. This is due to employees’ expectations. Extrinsic motivators (e.g., salary, benefits) are expected, so they won’t increase motivation when they are in place, but they will cause dissatisfaction when they are missing. Intrinsic motivators (e.g., challenging work, growth potential), on the other hand, can be a source of additional motivation when they are available.

Chart showing the factors that contribute to job satisfaction and job dissatisfaction according to Herzberg's Two-Factor Theory. Job dissatisfaction is influenced by hygiene factors; job satisfaction is influenced by motivator factors.

If management wants to increase employees’ job satisfaction, they should be concerned with the nature of the work itself—the opportunities it presents employees for gaining status, assuming responsibility, and achieving self-realization. If, on the other hand, management wishes to reduce dissatisfaction, then it must focus on the job environment—policies, procedures, supervision, and working conditions. To ensure a satisfied and productive workforce, managers must pay attention to both sets of job factors.

Watch the following videos to hear these principles explained by Frederick Herzberg himself (in a smoke-filled 1970s lecture theater no less!).