Two Factor Theory by Frederick Herzberg

Two factor theory Herzberg - ToolsHero

This article explains the Two Factor Theory by Frederick Herzberg in a practical way. After reading it, you understand the core of this effectiveness theory about motivating your employees.

What is the Two Factor Theory?

This theory, also called the Motivation-Hygiene Theory or the dual-factor theory, was penned by Frederick Herzberg in 1959. This American psychologist, who was very interested in people’s motivation and job satisfaction, came up with the theory. He conducted his research by asking a group of people about their good and bad experiences at work. He was surprised that the group answered questions about their good experiences very differently from the ones about their bad experiences.

Based on this, he developed the theory that people’s job satisfaction depends on two kinds of factors. Factors for satisfaction (motivators/satisfiers) and factors for dissatisfaction (hygiene factors/ dissatisfiers).

Performance, recognition, job status, responsibility and opportunities for growth all fall under motivators/ satisfiers.

Hygiene factors/dissatisfiers are about salary, secondary working conditions, the relationship with colleagues, physical work place and the relationship between supervisor and employee.

In his theory, Herzberg claims these factors function on the same plane. In other words, satisfaction and dissatisfaction aren’t polar opposites. Taking away an employee’s dissatisfaction – for example by offering a higher salary – doesn’t necessarily mean the employee will then be satisfied. The employee is just no longer dissatisfied.

Two Factor Theory by Frederick Herzberg - ToolsHero

4 different combinations can exist at work:

1: High hygiene and high motivation

This is the ideal situation. Employees are very motivated and barely have any complaints.

2: High hygiene and low motivation

Employees have few complaints, but they’re not really motivated, they see their work simply as a pay check.

3: Low hygiene and high motivation

Employees are motivated, their job is challenging, but they have complaints about salary or work conditions.

4: Low hygiene and low motivation

This is the worst possible situation, employees are not motivated and have a lot of complaints.

Illustration of the Two Factor Theory in practice - ToolsHero

KITA

Adjusting the hygiene factors, also called the KITA (Kick in the Ass) factors by Herzberg, often have a short-term effect that doesn’t last very long. Changing the motivation factors on the other hand often has a more lasting, long-term effect on employee performance.

How to apply the Two Factor Theory?

Organisations and their managers want teams with the best possible performance. But how do you motivate that team? There’s not much point in motivating employees if the hygiene factors aren’t taken care off. Motivating people really works when the things that bother them – the things they complain about -disappear.

Take away the dissatisfaction

To do this, it’s important to figure out all the important factors first. What are the complaints about, what’s going on, how do the employees interact with each other?
Generally speaking, the following aspects are important:

  • Work on the bureaucracy within the organisation
  • Make sure there’s supportive and effective supervision
  • Create a work environment where all employees are respected
  • Pay an honest salary
  • Make sure all employees do worthwhile work to build up the status of their functions
  • Give job guarantees

When the dissatisfaction is taken away, the organisation can focus on motivating its employees effectively.

Create conditions for satisfaction

For motivation within the organisation, think about:

  • Creating conditions for good performance
  • Appreciating your employees’ contributions
  • Tailoring the work to your employees’ talents and abilities
  • Giving each team as much responsibility as possible
  • Offering opportunities for growth within the organisation
  • Offering training and development opportunities

Organisations are prone to take Kick In The Ass measures in the short term, because they don’t affect the organisational structure that much. A higher salary, better work conditions etc. Measures for motivation require bigger investments and changes to the organisational culture.

Critique

The Two Factor Theory is widely used, but there are a few points issues with it. One issue is the fact that humans tend to look at the aspects of their work that they like and project them onto themselves when things are going well. When times are bad, external factors seem to play a larger part.

Another point of criticism is that the Two Factor Theory assumes that job satisfaction equals higher productivity. There are plenty of reasons to disagree, like external factors that might influence productivity. Herzberg didn’t take this into account while researching and coming up with his theory.

To summarise

The Two Factor Theory by Herzberg is a theory about motivation of employees. The Two Factor Theory assumes on the one hand, that employees can be dissatisfied with their jobs. This often has something to do with so-called hygiene factors, such as salary and work conditions. On the other hand, employees’ satisfaction has to do with so-called motivation factors. These factors have to do with development opportunities, responsibility and appreciation.

Herzberg claims these factors exist side by side. Taking away the dissatisfaction factors doesn’t necessarily mean employees will be satisfied. To motivate a team using motivation factors, the hygiene factors need to be taken care of first.

Now it is your turn

What do you think? Could you use the Two Factor Theory to motivate your employees? How would you approach it? Are you already using the Two Factor Theory and do you have tips and tricks, or would you like to add anything?

Share your experience and knowledge in the comments box below.

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More information

  1. DeShields Jr, O. W., Kara, A., & Kaynak, E. (2005). Determinants of business student satisfaction and retention in higher education: applying Herzberg’s two-factor theory. International journal of educational management, 19(2), 128-139.
  2. Herzberg, F. (1959). Work and motivation. Behaviour science concepts and management application: Studies in personnel policy, 216.
  3. Herzberg, F. (1969). Job enrichment pays off. Harvard Business Review, 47(2), 61-78.
  4. Herzberg, F. (2005). Motivation-hygiene theory. Organizational behavior one: Essential theories of motivation and leadership, eds JB Miner, ME Sharpe Inc, New York, 61-74.

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14 COMMENTS

  1. I have been looking at this model to assist with understanding the dynamics of anaesthesiologists migration from one working environment to another. the graphics are very useful for helping elucidate these ideas. Please advise me if I may reproduce them in an academic thesis or a published article.

    kind regards
    Matthew

    • Thank you for your comment and question, Matthew. Regarding your question, you can reproduce them if you make a reference to our online article (see APA refer). If you have any other questions, please let us know. Kind regards, Vincent

  2. Thank you so much this helped me a lot and its explained in a way that make it easier for people to understand, and het the core message from the theory.

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