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Herzberg's Motivation Theory

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. 

Two Factor Theory and Significance

Herzberg was the first to show that satisfaction and dissatisfaction at work nearly always arose from different factors, and were not simply opposing reactions to the same factors, as had always previously been believed.

In 1959 Herzberg wrote the following useful phrase, which helps explain this fundamental part of his theory:

"We can expand ... by stating that the job satisfiers deal with the factors involved in doing the job, whereas the job dissatisfiers deal with the factors which define the job context. "

Graphs of Herzberg's Theory and Findings

For a graphical presentation of this principle, see:

The 2008 diagram is based on the total percentages of 'First-Level' factors arising in Herzberg's 1959 research of high and low attitude events among 200 engineers and accountants, encompassing short and long-duration feelings. 

While Herzberg's overall conclusions were clear and consistent, the statistics from Herzberg's study can be interpreted in many different ways in their finer details, because of the depth and layering of Herzberg's survey methodology and analysis. 

  • For full details of the Herzberg study figures, and to fully appreciate the complexity and subtlety of his findings, see Herzberg's book The Motivation to Work

Herzberg Motivation Graph

herzberg rocket diagram

Herzberg considered the following perspectives to be important:

  1. High and low attitude (basically satisfaction and dissatisfaction, also defined as motivators and hygienes or hygiene factors)
  2. Short and long-term duration of feelings (of high/low attitude effect)
  3. First and second-level factors (i.e., main causal factors, and secondary factors deriving from the main stimulus, identified by further probing during interviews)
  4. The interrelationship of factors

These different perspectives obviously provided (and still provide) endless ways to analyse and present the results, although as stated already the main conclusions remain consistent.

The purpose of the diagram (either version) is to illustrate how Herzberg's research showed that certain factors truly motivate ('motivators'), whereas others tended to lead to dissatisfaction ('hygiene factors'). According to Herzberg, people have two sets of needs; one as an animal to avoid pain, and two as a human beings to grow psychologically.

  • He illustrated this also through Biblical example: Adam after his expulsion from Eden having the need for food, warmth, shelter, safety, etc., - the 'hygiene' needs; and Abraham, capable and achieving great things through self-development - the 'motivational' needs. 
  • Certain parallels can clearly be seen with Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs.

Implications of Herzberg's Research

Herzberg's research proved that people will strive to achieve 'hygiene' needs because they are unhappy without them, but once satisfied the effect soon wears off - satisfaction is temporary. 

  • Then as now, poorly managed organisations fail to understand that people are not 'motivated' by addressing 'hygiene' needs. 
  • People are only truly motivated by enabling them to reach for and satisfy the factors that Herzberg identified as real motivators, such as achievement, advancement, development, etc., which represent a far deeper level of meaning and fulfilment.

Examples of Herzberg's 'hygiene' needs (or maintenance factors) in the workplace are:

  • Policy
  • Relationship with supervisor
  • Work conditions
  • Salary
  • Company car
  • Status
  • Security
  • Relationship with subordinates
  • Personal life

Herzberg's research identified that true motivators were other completely different factors, notably:

  • Achievement
  • Recognition
  • Work itself
  • Responsibility
  • Advancement

Note. Herzberg identified a specific category within the study responses which he called 'possibility of growth'. This arose in relatively few cases within the study and was not considered a major factor by Herzberg. When referring to 'growth' or 'personal growth in terms of Herzberg's primary motivators, 'growth' should be seen as an aspect of advancement, and not confused with the different matter of 'possibility of growth'.