What is motivation? A summary of Hertzberg’s Two-Factor Theory

Ash Kirvan
Apr 28, 2020 · 2 min read

Psychologist Frederick Herzberg developed his motivation-hygiene theory, also commonly referred to as the Two Factor Theory, in 1959. It endures to this day as a powerful management framework.

It is a critical lens through which to view matters of employee engagement and retention.

The fundamental insight in the two-factor theory of motivation holds that job satisfaction and dissatisfaction are two separate categories with independent contributing factors. Therefore, factors effecting satisfaction and dissatisfaction do not form a continuum, and managers must not make the mistake of assuming that increasing satisfaction will automatically reduce dissatisfaction.

Under Hertzbergs theory, factors which increase satisfaction are called Motivators, and those which decrease dissatisfaction are called Hygiene Factors. Hygiene Factors typically refer to things which are necessary but not sufficient to improve workplace motivation.

Motivating Factors

Motivators arise from intrinsic conditions of the job itself, such as recognition, achievement or personal growth. They may include:

  • Challenging work,
  • Recognition for one’s achievement,
  • Taking on responsibility,
  • Opportunity to meaningful work,
  • Autonomy,
  • Involvement in decision making,
  • Sense of importance to an organization.

Hygiene Factors

Hygiene Factors or ‘maintenance factors’ are extrinsic to the work itself, such as conditions, management practices, and compensation. They may include:

  • Pay
  • Benefits,
  • Job security,
  • Work conditions & safety.

Typically these are factors which create dissatisfaction by their absence.

Sins of omission

By ignoring the two-factor lens, it is easy to be working purposefully to create a positive work environment, but end up in one of two sub-optimal cultures:

  1. High motivation but low hygiene: Jobs are exciting and challenging, but frustrating work conditions or compensation result in high turnover,
  2. High hygiene but low motivation: Employees slide into a ‘job as a paycheck’ mentality, with few complaints but relatively little motivation to go the extra mile.