Herzberg's Two-Factor Theory

Understanding Herzberg's Two-Factor Theory

Herzberg’s two-factor theory is an extension of Maslow’s Hierarchy of NeedsOpens in new window theory and essentially a theory of job satisfaction, which states that there are certain factors in the workplace that cause job satisfaction,Opens in new window while a separate set of factors cause dissatisfaction, all of which act independently of one another (Herzberg et al., 1959).

The theory (also called Herzberg's motivation-hygiene theory and dual-factor theory) is based on considerable empirical evidence: specifically on the principles that people are motivated towards what satisfies them, and away from what dissatisfies them (McKenna, 2000).

Herzberg (in 1959) conducted an empirical research on job attitudes of 200 engineers and accountants in which he collected feedback from the question “what do people want from their job?”, he concluded that job satisfaction came from two distinct types of motivational factors,

  1. hygiene factors (labeled as “dissatisfiers”) and
  2. true motivators (labeled as “satisfiers”).

We'll spend the remainder of this entry, delving deeper into each.

1.  Hygiene Factors

The Hygiene Factors (also called dissatisfiers or job-context factors) which are equivalent to Maslow’s lower needs, are a type of extrinsic job conditions that, when not present, result in dissatisfaction among employees. When they are present, they remove discomfort or dissatisfaction and thus support mental health but in themselves do not contribute to high job satisfaction (McKenna, 2000).

Examples of Hygiene Factors include

  • company’s personnel policy (pay and allowances, job security, promotions, etc.),
  • administration,
  • quality of supervision,
  • interpersonal relationship,
  • physical working conditions, etc.

Herzberg calls these conditions maintenance, hygiene, or job-context factors and argued that these factors are not directly related to the job itself rather they are associated with the conditions that surrounded doing the job. Hence these conditions are needed to maintain at least a level of no dissatisfaction. (Tietjen et al.,1998).

Similar arguments are put forward by Luthans (1998) who suggests that although the hygiene factors prevent dissatisfaction they do not lead to satisfaction because they generate motivation up to a zero level and are necessary basis to prevent dissatisfaction. Luthans (1998) adds that hygiene factors serve as a takeoff point for motivation but they cannot motivate by themselves.

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The Implication of Hygiene Factors

According to Herzberg (1968), job satisfaction and job dissatisfaction are not opposites—as is the traditional belief—rather the opposite of job satisfaction Opens in new window is simply a lack of satisfaction.

Consequently, the opposite of job dissatisfaction is not satisfaction rather it is no dissatisfaction. Hence removing dissatisfying characteristics from a job does not necessarily lead to job satisfaction.

This can be illustrated by an example from the hygiene factor working conditions. If the air-conditioning breaks down on a hot summer’s day, the employees might be greatly dissatisfied since they have to work in a hot office. On the other hand, if the air-conditioning works all day as expected the employees will not be extremely satisfied by being grateful rather it is something taken for granted.

2.  True Motivators

Motivators are a type of intrinsic factors called satisfiers, which are associated with job content and to the reward that results directly from doing work well. They are believed to cause happy feelings or good attitude within the worker. They motivate people towards superior performance; to desire challenging tasks, growth and development.

Herzberg suggested job enrichment to provide true motivation. Job can be enriched by increasing skill variety, task identity, task significance, autonomyOpens in new window and feedback.

Examples of True Motivators include:

  • Organizational culture (not treating people as cog in the wheel, team building, etc.)
  • Achievement-orientation, participation, delegation, empowerment, etc.
  • Philosophy of working for results Management by Objectives
  • Continued learning opportunities (growth)
  • Full appreciation/recognition of work

The theory suggests that motivators cause happy feelings or positive job attitudes because they satisfy the individual’s needs until self-actualization is reached which is thought to be the ultimate goal as indicated by Maslow (Herzberg, 1968). Thus, the presence of motivators has the potential to create great job satisfaction and serves to motivate the individual to superior effort and performance but their absence does not cause dissatisfaction rather there will be no positive motivation (Tietjen et al., 1998).

According to Luthans (1998), the motivators are equivalent to Maslow’s higher-order needs. Thus, Herzberg’s theory implies that an individual must have a challenging job involving opportunities for advancement, recognition and responsibility in order to be truly motivated because these intrinsic factors satisfy people’s need for growth and achievement.

Implications of Herzberg’s Theory for Managers

To motivate employees, managers must ensure to provide the hygiene factors and then adopt the motivating factors. Herzberg’s motivation-hygiene theory proposes that intrinsic factors are related to job satisfaction and motivation, whereas extrinsic factors are associated with job dissatisfaction.

SatisfactionOpens in new window is only provided by motivators whereas dissatisfaction is the result of the non-existence or failure of hygiene factors (Locke, 1976). Therefore, if management wants to create positive motivation, great attention must be paid to the hygiene factors as well as the motivators.

The hygiene factors are needed to prevent unpleasantness at work and to prevent unfair treatment. The motivators, on the other hand, relate to what people are allowed to do at work so that these are the variables which actually motivate the worker (Mullins, 1996).

When these factors are adequate, people will not be dissatisfied; but at the same time they may not be fully satisfied. They will be in neutral state. If we want to motivate people on their jobs, it is suggested to give much importance on those job content factors such as opportunities for personal growth, recognition, responsibility, and achievement. These are the characteristics that people find intrinsically rewarding.

Again, Herzberg theory sensitizes that merely treating the employees well through the good company policies is not sufficient to them motivated. Therefore, managers should utilize the skills, abilities, and talents of the people at work through effective job designing.

In other words, the work given to employees should be challenging and exciting and offer them a sense of achievement, recognition, and growth. Unless these characteristics are present in the job, employees will not be motivated.

Criticism of Herzberg’s Theory

Herzberg theory has not gone unchallenged. Some researchers have questioned Herzberg’s research methods, which they said tended to prejudice the results.

For example, the well-known tendency of people to attribute good results to their own efforts and to blame others for poor results is thought to have prejudiced Herzberg’s findings. These researchers, not assenting to his methods, have arrived at conclusions that do not support the theory.

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