Frederick Herzberg - Motivation Theory

Frederick Herzberg's theory on management and motivation to improve job satisfaction and avoid dissatisfaction

Frederick Herzberg - Motivation Theory

Frederick Herzberg motivational theory [edit]

Frederick Herzberg's motivation and hygiene factors

Frederick Herzberg (1923-2000), clinical psychologist and pioneer of 'job enrichment', is regarded as one of the great original thinkers in management and motivational theory. Frederick I 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 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 Professor of Management. He died at Salt Lake City, January 18, 2000.

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 motivational study. 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.

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 scrutinizing and comparing the results and methodologies of all 155 previous research studies into job attitudes carried out between 1920 and 1954.

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 modern understanding 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.


herzberg's main theory and its 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 (and still now by the unenlightened) believed.

In 1959 Herzberg wrote the following useful little phrase, which helps explain this fundamental part of his theory, i.e., that the factors which motivate people at work are different to and not simply the opposite of the factors which cause dissatisfaction:

"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."

For graphical presentation of this principle, see the Herzberg hygiene factors and motivators graph diagram (revised April 2008), and the Herzberg diagram rocket and launch pad analogy diagram, (both are pdf files).

The rocket analogy diagram, which incidentally is my own interpretation and not Herzberg's, is also available as a doc file and a powerpoint slide: Herzberg rocket diagram doc (MSWord) format, and Herzberg rocket diagram ppt (MSPowerpoint) format.

The graph diagram is also available in MSPowerpoint slide fomat: Herzberg's hygiene factors and motivators graph diagram ppt slide format.

The 2008 graph 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. In addition to being really interesting and relevant to modern times, the book contains many tables of statistics and analysis, structured differently and extensively according to the variables that Herzberg considered to be important, for example, including the obvious main perspectives:

  • high and low attitude (basically satisfaction and dissatisfaction, also defined as motivators and hygienes or hygiene factors)
  • short and long term duration of feelings (of high/low attitude effect)
  • first and second level factors (i.e., main causal factors, and secondary factors deriving from the main stimulus, identified by further probing during interviews)
  • 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.

Incidentally, the 2008 revised graph diagram replaces the previous Herzberg factors diagram 2003 version, which I based on an interpretation of Herzberg's work by BACIE (British Association for Industrial and Commercial Education), appearing in their Handbook of Management Training Exercises published in 1978. BACIE referenced Herzberg's book Work and the Nature of Man, Staples Press 1966, but the root statistics and study are found in The Motivation to Work, 1959. I am unclear exactly how BACIE arrived at their figures reflected in the 2003 diagram, and it remains on this website mainly because it featured here for so long. If you use it please ensure you explain the background suitably. I am sure there are very many graphical interpretations of Herzberg's study results, which for the reasons explained will probably vary somewhat in the detail, although probably not too much in overall impression.

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, Man has two sets of needs; one as an animal to avoid pain, and two as a human being 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.

Herzberg's ideas relate strongly to modern ethical management and social responsibility, and very directly to the Psychological Contract. This is remarkable. Herzberg's ideas were developed several decades before proper consideration and description of these more recent and important organizational perspectives.

Many decades ago Herzberg, like Maslow, understood well and attempted to teach the ethical management principles that many leaders today, typically in businesses and organisations that lack humanity, still struggle to grasp. In this respect Herzberg's concepts are just as relevant now as when he first suggested them, except that the implications of responsibility, fairness, justice and compassion in business are now global.

Although Herzberg is most noted for his famous 'hygiene' and motivational factors theory, he was essentially concerned with people's well-being at work. Underpinning his theories and academic teachings, he was basically attempting to bring more humanity and caring into the workplace. He and others like him, did not develop their theories to be used as 'motivational tools' purely to improve organisational performance. They sought instead primarily to explain how to manage people properly, for the good of all people at work.

Herzberg's research proved that people will strive to achieve 'hygiene' needs because they 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

N.B. 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. Where 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'.


to what extent is money a motivator?

This question commonly arises when considering Herzberg's research and theories, so it's appropriate to include it here.

Herzberg addressed money particularly (referring specifically to 'salary' in his study and analysis). Herzberg acknowledged the complexity of the salary issue (money, earnings, etc), and concluded that money is not a motivator in the way that the primary motivators are, such as achievement and recognition.

Herzberg said about 'salary':

"It [salary] appears as frequently in the high sequences ['sequences' refers to events causing high or low attitude feelings recalled by interviewees in the study] as it does in the low sequences... however... we find that in the lows [events leading to dissatisfaction], salary is found almost three times as often in the long-range as in the short-range attitude changes..." (There was no such bias towards the more important long-range feelings in the high attitude events.)

And about the interrelation of salary and other factors:

"...when salary occurred as a factor in the lows (causes of dissatisfaction) it revolved around the unfairness of the wage system within the company... It was the system of salary administration that was being described... [or] it concerned an advancement that was not accompanied by a salary increase... In contrast to this, salary was mentioned in the high stories (events causing satisfaction) as something that went along with a person's achievement on the job. It was a form of recognition; it meant more than money; it meant a job well done; it meant that the individual was progressing in his work..."

And Herzberg concluded about salary (i.e., money, earnings, etc):

"Viewed within the context of the sequences of events, salary as a factor belongs more in the group that defines the job situation and is primarily a dissatisfier."

Many people argue nevertheless that money is a primary motivator.

For most people money is not a motivator - despite what they might think and say.

For all people there are bigger more sustaining motivators than money.

Surveys and research studies repeatedly show that other factors motivate more than money. Examples appear in the newspapers and in other information resources every week.

For instance, a survey by Development Dimensions International published in the UK Times newspaper in 2004 interviewed 1,000 staff from companies employing more than 500 workers, and found many to be bored, lacking commitment and looking for a new job. Pay actually came fifth in the reasons people gave for leaving their jobs.

The main reasons were lack of stimulus jobs and no opportunity for advancement - classic Herzberg motivators - 43% left for better promotion chances, 28% for more challenging work; 23% for a more exciting place to work; and 21% and more varied work.

Lots of other evidence is found in life, wherever you care to look.

Consider what happens when people win big lottery prize winners.

While many of course give up their 'daily grind' jobs, some do not. They wisely recognise that their work is part of their purpose and life-balance.

Others who give up their jobs do so to buy or start and run their own businesses. They are pursuing their dream to achieve something special for them, whatever that might be. And whatever it means to them, the motivation is not to make money, otherwise why don't they just keep hold of what they've got? Why risk it on a project that will involve lots of effort and personal commitment? Of course the reason they invest in a new business venture is that pursuing this sort of plan is where the real motivators are found - achievement, responsibility, advancement, etc - not money.

The people who are always the most unhappy are those who focus on spending their money. The lottery prize-winners who give up work and pursue material and lifestyle pleasures soon find that life becomes empty and meaningless. Money, and spending it, are not enough to sustain the human spirit. We exist for more.

Money is certainly important, and a personal driver, if you lack enough for a decent civilized existence, or you are striving for a house or a holiday, but beyond this, money is not for the vast majority of people a sustainable motivator in itself.

See also [edit]