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Frederick Herzberg - Theory of Motivation

Frederick Herzberg was a well respected American who has contributed greatly to the way in which managers think about motivation at work.  He first published his theory in 1959 in a book entitled ‘The Motivation to Work’ and put forward a two factor content theory which is often referred to as a two need system.  It is a content theory which explains the factors of an individual’s motivation by identifying their needs and desires, what satisfies their needs and desires and by establishing the aims that they pursue to satisfy these desires.

Herzberg’s original research was undertaken in the offices of engineers and accountants rather than on the factory floor and involved interviewing over two hundred employees.  His aim was to determine work situations where the subjects were highly motivated and satisfied rather than where the opposite was true and his research was later paired with many studies involving a broader sampling of professional people.

In his findings Herzberg split his factors of motivation into two categories called Hygiene factors and Motivation factors.  The Hygiene factors can de-motivate or cause dissatisfaction if they are not present, but do not very often create satisfaction when they are present; however, Motivation factors do motivate or create satisfaction and are rarely the cause of dissatisfaction.  The two types of factors may be listed as follows in order of importance:

Hygiene Factors (leading to dissatisfaction):

  • Company Policy
  • Supervision
  • Relationship with Boss
  • Work Conditions
  • Salary
  • Relationship with Peers

Motivators (leading to satisfaction):

  • Achievement
  • Recognition
  • The work itself
  • Responsibility
  • Advancement
  • Growth

The dissatisfiers are hygiene factors in the sense that they are maintenance factors required to avoid dissatisfaction and stop workers from being unhappy, but do not create satisfaction in themselves.  They can be avoided by using ‘hygienic’ methods to prevent them.

It is clear from the lists that the factors in each are not actually opposing i.e. the satisfiers are not the opposite of the dissatisfiers.  The opposite of satisfaction isn’t dissatisfaction but is ‘no satisfaction’.  Both lists contain factors that lead to motivation, but to a differing extent because they fulfil different needs.  The Hygiene factors have an end which once fulfilled then cease to be motivating factors while the Motivation factors are much more open-ended and this is why they continue to motivate.

Herzberg also developed the concept that there are two distinct human needs:

1) Physiological needs: avoiding unpleasantness or discomfort and may be fulfilled via money to buy food and shelter etc.
2) Psychological needs: the need for personal development fulfilled by activities which cause one to grow.

He identified this as the Adam and Abraham Concept where Adam is animal and wants to avoid pain or discomfort, but Abraham is human and needs to go beyond the physical requirements and expand psychologically too.

Herzberg believed that the Hygiene factors causing no satisfaction are not applicable to the task an employee undertakes but are external to that task.  They are the Adam part of the concept where an incentive may be attributed to a fear of punishment or increase in discomfort or as he phrased it ‘A Kick up the Ass’ (KITA).  He thought that these did work but only as short term motivators e.g. constantly increasing someone’s salary to motivate them will merely encourage them to look for the next wage rise and nothing else; however, salary may also be a de-motivator where the employee perceives it to be too low or low compared to that of their peers.  The long term motivators are the Abraham part of the concept that lead to satisfaction and are intrinsic to the job itself and the job design.  Consider the chambermaid who prefers to receive a note of appreciation for her high standards from a guest than a carelessly delivered gratuity.

It is important to understand that the two types of factors are not mutually exclusive and that management must try to fulfil both types of need for an employee to be truly satisfied with their job.  Once the Hygiene factors have been satisfied providing more of them will not create further motivation but not satisfying them may cause de-motivation; unlike the Motivation factors where management may not fulfil all of them but the workers may still feel motivated.  Major companies have recognised this situation when designing their methods of reward and recognition.

Probably one of the most important ideas that Herzberg postulated based on his findings of satisfaction is that of ‘job enrichment’. This is the addition of different tasks to a job to provide greater involvement and interaction with that job.  It is obviously a continuous management process:

  • The job must use the full ability of the employee and provide them with sufficient challenge
  • Any employee who demonstrates an increasing level of ability should be given correspondingly increasing levels of responsibility

If a job cannot be designed to use an employee’s full ability management should consider employing someone of lesser skills or perhaps automation of the task.  If a person’s skills cannot be used to the full they will experience problems with motivation.

Most job frustrations arise from Hygiene factors such as frustration due to bureaucracy, poor organisation, internal politics or feeling exploited.  Tesco, one of the leading retailers in the UK, recently gained recognition via achieving the National Business Awards ‘Employer of the Year’ when the judges declared that: ”Tesco was voted Employer of the Year because its solutions were seen to be more holistic”.  Tesco recognise how motivated staff who are committed to their work have a positive effect on Company performance.  They invest several million pounds each year in training schemes which are based on Herzberg motivators e.g.

1) New and more open lines of communication between managers and staff
2) Directors and senior managers spend a week on the shop floor listening to ideas from customers and staff
3) A scheme exists to spot individual talent and to fast-track shop floor workers up the promotional ladder
4) A better understanding of individual employees personal circumstances

These initiatives have helped Tesco deliver record growth and sales profits and illustrate how theory may be used in practice.

Over the years there are criticisms that have arisen e.g. his sample of employees was not representative of all workers, but further studies have tended to support his findings.  In addition some critics have declared that it is natural for people to take credit for satisfaction, but to blame dissatisfaction on external factors.  Every individual is just that – an individual and theories of motivation cannot realistically apply to each single employee; however, they are useful for identifying the main ways in which people are motivated.  Herzberg and his findings have been extremely influential in developments associated with the field of job design and methods of management to provide job satisfaction and motivation.

Find out more:

Motivating Others to Perform
An Introduction to Management and Leadership

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