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A Beginner’s Guide to Herzberg’s Two-Factor Motivation Theory - HRDQ

A Beginner’s Guide to Herzberg’s Two-Factor Motivation Theory

There are several different motivation theories about what drives employees to do their best work. Understanding some of the most well-known theories can help managers support their workers more efficiently while also helping the organization thrive and grow.

Herzberg's two-factor motivation theory proposes that two primary factors drive human motivation, which he deemed motivators and hygiene factors.

Motivators are the factors that help to encourage employee job satisfaction, while hygiene factors are the factors that prevent dissatisfaction in the workplace, according to this theory.

Let's look at what you'll need to know about the two-factor theory and how you can apply it to your business.

What Is Herzberg's Two-Factor Motivation Theory?

The Herzberg theory states that there are certain elements in any workplace that can lead to job satisfaction and dissatisfaction.

The Two Factor Motivation Theory

This theory is known by various names, including:

  • Herzberg's motivation-hygiene theory
  • Herzberg's theory
  • The dual-factor theory
  • The two-factor theory

Herzberg, an American psychologist, worked to understand what motivates employees and interviewed workers to find out what led to positive and negative work experiences. In developing his theory, he believed that two types of factors influenced a person's job satisfaction: motivators and hygiene factors.

1. Motivators

In Herzberg's theory, motivators are elements that give positive satisfaction. These are aspects of a job that come out of intrinsic aspects of the job, such as achievement, personal growth, or recognition.

Satisfied Team of Employees

Let's look at some motivators that can lead to job satisfaction:

  • Recognition: Recognition can be a significant motivator for some people. On top of helping them feel appreciated and accomplished, it also encourages them to repeat the same positive actions that created the positive performance outcome. Essentially, recognition reinforces good performance.
  • The work itself: A crucial motivating factor for many employees is feeling like the work that they are doing is important. When someone believes that the tasks they are engaging in are meaningful, they are much more likely to have the motivation to perform at a high level.
  • Growth opportunities: Employees can also feel motivated when they know that there are chances for them to develop professionally. Not only does this give them a strong sense of accomplishment, but it also offers built-in goals for them to aim for.
  • Achievement: Some individuals are motivated by feelings of achievement. When they set and accomplish goals and want to receive consistent feedback regarding their progress, employees are driven to succeed in their roles.
  • Job Advancement opportunities: While some employees might be happy to stay in their current role, others want to know that there is a clear path they can take to progress in their careers. When these individuals know that they can work their way up, it can be a significant motivating factor in terms of productivity and performance.

You can learn more about the factors that drive employees in our guide about employee motivators.

2. Hygiene Factors

On the other hand, hygiene factors are factors that don't lead to higher motivation when they are present. Instead, they result in dissatisfaction when they aren't present.

Present Workplace Hygiene Factors

Examples include good pay, job security, work conditions, and vacations.

  • Job security: When people don't feel secure in their positions, they might not be as likely to feel satisfied with their jobs. When they feel secure in their roles, on the other hand, they might experience a higher degree of job satisfaction.
  • Salary: It's hard to feel satisfied with your job when you don't feel you're being compensated fairly for your work. 
  • Relationships: People who feel camaraderie with their peers are more likely to experience higher job satisfaction. This also encapsulates relationships with supervisors and subordinates.
  • Physical workspace: There are a lot of different elements to a physical workspace– from the size of an office and its lighting to the furnishings and having an on-site cafeteria. If individuals don't have safe equipment to work with, a comfortable working environment, and lack the resources they need to do a good job, job satisfaction will be lower.
  • Company policies: The policies a company sets for its workers should be fair and clearly communicated. At the same time, they should be on par with those of other companies in the same industry. Job satisfaction will likely be lower if policies are perceived as unfair or unclear.
  • Supervision: Autonomy can be very meaningful to employees, and the feeling of being micromanaged can lower a person's job satisfaction.
  • Working conditions: This element in Herzberg's theory contains the formal terms upon which staff members are hired, such as the pay rate, the length of the workday, and the contract of employment.
  • Status: A person's status within a company can also impact the level to which they feel satisfied with their job.

If you're interested in learning about other motivational theories that can be applied to the workplace, read our recent post about Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs.

Who Was Herzberg?

Frederick Irving Herzberg is best known for his Motivator-Hygiene theory as well as a concept that stemmed from this theory known as "job enrichment." Born in 1923 in Lynn, Massachusetts, Herzberg was an American psychologist that started researching organizations in the 1950s.

By 1987, his 1968 publication entitled "One More Time, How Do You Motivate Employees" was the most requested article from the Harvard Business Review and had sold 1.2 million reprints.

Frederick Irving Herzberg

Herzberg worked at the University of Utah starting in the 50s and remained there until he retired. Because of his work in researching motivation and job enrichment, Herzberg was one of the most influential names in business management during his time.

How to Apply the Herzberg Theory

If you're interested in applying Herzberg's theory to your workplace, there are a few steps you'll want to take.

1. Analyze Your Workplace Morale

The first thing you'll want to do when applying this theory is to evaluate morale in your workplace. Take the time to observe your employees, their attitudes, and their productivity. You might be able to find that there are correlations between specific elements and higher productivity.

High Workplace Morale

Since everyone is different, you might find that some of your employees are motivated by different elements than others. To learn what's motivating your employees, there are several steps you can take beyond simple observation.

You can send out online employee surveys, conduct polls, or have conversations with individuals on your team to learn more about what motivates them.

2. Address Hygiene Factors

The next step is to build a plan that allows you to address hygiene factors in your workplace. For example, you might find that there are changes you can make to the physical workplace that help reduce barriers to job satisfaction for your employees, or you might want to change some of your company policies to better meet the needs of your employees.

Addressing Workplace Hygiene Factors

If you find that supervision is one of the hygiene factors that need to be addressed, you might implement training programs for your supervisors and managers that reflect Herzberg's theory.

3. Increase Motivating Factors

If you are dedicated to increasing motivation in the workplace, you'll also want to make motivating factors more prevalent.

Increasing Workplace Motivating Factors

You'll want to incorporate the feedback you receive from your employees about what motivates them to ensure the best results.

Benefits of Applying the Two-Factor Theory

There are many potential advantages to using the two-factor theory in your workplace. Increasing motivation can have a notable impact on the bottom line, which is evidenced by a Gallup finding that states that highly engaged teams show 21% greater profitability.

Highly Engaged Team

Here are some of the benefits that can result from applying this theory:

  • Encourages unity and diversity: The Herzberg theory can help managers and leaders in the organization learn more about the concerns of employees in the workplace.
  • Provides deep insights: When applying Herzberg's theory, you inevitably get a much deeper look into the mindset of your employees about their jobs. By learning more about the internal factors that motivate workers, you can learn a lot about your employees and your organization as a whole.
  • Identifies diverse motivation factors: This theory recognizes that many different elements can influence an employee's satisfaction or lack of satisfaction on the job. This can be useful in actually pinpointing pain points in the organization in order to solve them.
  • Provides a framework for measuring success: Another positive benefit of Herzberg's theory is that it helps to nurture accountability-driven metrics regarding the success of company projects and employee job satisfaction.

Drawbacks of Applying the Two-Factor Theory

There are also some potential downsides to Herzberg's theory that you'll want to consider before applying it in your workplace.

Two Factor Theory Drawbacks

These include:

  • Disconnect between performance and motivators: Job satisfaction and performance aren't always directly correlated. This means a team can perform well but still be dissatisfied with their job.
  • Team disagreements: It isn't always easy to measure success solely based on these motivating factors, which could potentially breed conflict between managers and teams.
  • Individual differences: Not everyone is driven by the same things, and there's a good chance your team is made up of individuals with different motivational factors.
  • Disconnect between productivity and satisfaction: Herzberg's theory hypothesizes that workers will be more productive if they are satisfied with their jobs. However, there are additional factors that can impact productivity in addition to worker motivation.

Other Popular Motivation Theories in Management

Herzberg's theory isn't the only theory that proposes to understand what motivates employees. Let's look at a few others to help understand how complex and difficult to pin down the topic of employee motivation is.

McClelland's Need Theory

McClelland's theory proposes that most people have three different needs: the need for affiliation, the need for achievement, and the need for power. Each of these needs in this theory relates to a specific type of person that is driven to address that need.

The need for affiliation has to do with the drive to be accepted by other people and belong to a group. Understanding this theory can be helpful to managers in identifying workers that might flourish as a part of a team. Individuals motivated by affiliation tend to be skilled at generating meaningful relationships with coworkers because of their highly developed interpersonal skills.

Motivated Team of Employees

The need for achievement has to do with the drive to be important and successful. Individuals with this motivation might have a high standard for their work ethic and be more inclined to a competitive attitude.

Finally, the need for power has to do with the drive to make an impact on others and positively affect the workplace. These people usually enjoy delegating tasks, leading groups of people, and organizing events.

Mazlow's Hierarchy of Needs

Maslow's hierarchy of needs is a psychological theory often applied in business contexts. It proposes that each individual has different types of needs that are organized in a hierarchy, with needs lower on the hierarchy needing to be met before the next level up is achieved.

Team Discussing Motivators

The five levels are: physiological, safety, socialization, esteem, and self-actualization. At the base level, a person is driven to meet their basic needs for survival. At the highest level, individuals are motivated to achieve long-term, personal, or complex goals.

Incentive Theory

This theory of motivation suggests that people are motivated by recognition, reinforcement, rewards, and incentives.

Employee Being Recognized

Workplaces that utilize this theory might offer several incentives such as paid vacation or time off, bonuses, promotions, opportunities for growth, and praise.

Competence Theory

Another motivational theory proposes that people are motivated by the ability to display their abilities, skills, and intelligence in specific activities.

Employee Demonstrating Competency

The idea is that employees that are able to successfully demonstrate their competency in front of their peers experience increased confidence and are motivated to do a good job in their work.

Expectancy Theory

The expectancy theory offers the idea that people are motivated to perform certain behaviors when they believe that desired outcomes will result from their actions.

Leader Motivating Employees

This motivational theory can be applied in your workplace by offering incentives to encourage employees to perform a specific special action, such as working extra hours to complete a project.

Learning What Motivates Your Employees: An Essential Task

A motivated team can help increase productivity, boost innovation, lower staff turnover, and reduce absenteeism. On top of that, it can help your brand develop a strong reputation and make it easier to recruit talented new employees.

A Motivated Team

Learning what motivates your employees can be challenging, but there are many exercises and activities you can utilize to better understand what makes your team tick. Consider trying out the Sessions Openers Thumballs in our Thumball Game Communication Starter, which helps you learn about the goals and motivations of each of your employees. 

Do you have any questions about the two-factor motivation theory or anything similar? If so, please feel free to leave us a comment down below, and we'll get back to you within a day or two! We make it a point to reply to every comment we receive, and we'd be more than happy to help you out however possible!

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About our author

Bradford R. Glaser

Brad is President and CEO of HRDQ, a publisher of soft-skills learning solutions, and HRDQ-U, an online community for learning professionals hosting webinars, workshops, and podcasts. His 35+ years of experience in adult learning and development have fostered his passion for improving the performance of organizations, teams, and individuals.