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Frederick Herzberg Background Information


Frederick Herzberg (1923-2000), a clinical psychologist and pioneer of 'job enrichment', is regarded as one of the great original thinkers in management and motivational theory. Frederick Herzberg was born in Massachusetts on April 18, 1923. His undergraduate work was at the City College of New York, followed by graduate degrees at the University of Pittsburgh. Herzberg was later a Professor of Management at Case Western Reserve University, where he established the Department of Industrial Mental Health. He moved to the University of Utah's College of Business in 1972, where he was also a Professor of Management. He died in Salt Lake City, on January 18, 2000.

Work and Research

Frederick Herzberg's book ' The Motivation to Work ', written with research colleagues Bernard Mausner and Barbara Bloch Snyderman in 1959, first established his theories about motivation in the workplace. Herzberg's survey work, originally on 200 Pittsburgh engineers and accountants remains a fundamentally important reference in the field of studying Motivation. While the study involved only 200 people, Herzberg's considerable preparatory investigations, and the design of the research itself, enabled Herzberg and his colleagues to gather and analyse an extremely sophisticated level of data.

Survey and Interviewing Methods

Herzberg's research used a pioneering approach, based on open questioning and very few assumptions, to gather and analyse details of 'critical incidents' as recalled by the survey respondents. He first used this methodology during his doctoral studies at the University of Pittsburgh with John Flanagan (later Director at the American Institute for Research), who developed the Critical Incident method in the selection of Army Air Corps personnel during the Second World War. 

Herzberg's clever open interviewing method gleaned far more meaningful results than the conventional practice of asking closed (basically yes/no) or multiple-choice or extent-based questions, which assume or prompt a particular type of response, and which incidentally remain the most popular and convenient style of surveying even today - especially among those having a particular agenda or publicity aim.

Herzberg also prepared intensively prior to his 1959 study - not least by scrutinising and comparing the results and methodologies of all 155 previous research studies into job attitudes carried out between 1920 and 1954.

The Development of Herzberg's Motivation-Hygiene Theory

The level of preparation, plus the 'critical incident' aspect and the depth of care and analysis during the 1959 project, helped make Herzberg's study such a powerful and sophisticated piece of work. Herzberg expanded his motivation-hygiene theory in his subsequent books: Work and the Nature of Man (1966); The Managerial Choice (1982); and Herzberg on Motivation (1983).

Significantly, Herzberg commented in 1984, twenty-five years after his theory was first published:

"The original study has produced more replications than any other research in the history of industrial and organizational psychology." (source: Institute for Scientific Information)

The absence of any serious challenge to Herzberg's theory continues effectively to validate it.

  • Herzberg's central theory is very relevant to the modern understanding of employer/employee relationships, mutual understanding and alignment within the Psychological Contract.
  • It also provided some foundations and basic principles of Nudge theory - a powerful change-management and motivational concept which emerged in the 2000s.