What really motivates employees? This question has long intrigued scholars seeking to understand human behavior and performance. One highly influential motivation theory was developed in the late 1950s by behavioral scientist Frederick Herzberg – the two-factor theory.
In this post, let’s take a deep dive into Herzberg’s seminal framework to grasp what drives motivation at work.
Table of Contents
Introducing Two-Factor Theory
Through interviews with professionals, Herzberg concluded that two distinct sets of factors contribute to employee satisfaction and dissatisfaction at work:
1. Hygiene factors – Extrinsic elements like company policies, supervision, salary, job security, and working conditions. These do not directly provide positive satisfaction but their absence causes dissatisfaction.
2. Motivator factors – Intrinsic elements like achievement, recognition, enjoyment of the work itself, responsibility, and opportunities for advancement. These directly drive motivation when present.
Herzberg reasoned that optimal motivation requires both adequate hygiene factors to avoid dissatisfaction and robust motivators to propel satisfaction.
Key Hygiene Factors
Hygiene factors pertain to the job context and external conditions. Important hygiene factors include:
Company policies – Fairness and perceived equity
Supervision – Level of competence and communication
Physical working conditions – Comfort, safety, adequate resources
Salary & benefits – Competitive and aligned to value provided
Job security – Stability and continuity of employment
Work relationships – Positive interactions with superiors, peers, subordinates
While these characteristics do not directly motivate in themselves, falling short in any of these areas can demotivate employees.
Powerful Motivator Factors
Motivator factors relate to intrinsic aspects of the job itself. Major motivator factors are:
Achievement – Completing challenging work and solving problems
Recognition – Earning appreciation, rewards, and promotions for effort
Advancement – Growing skills and making progress in one’s career
Responsibility – Controlling important tasks and resources
The work itself – Finding purpose and fulfillment from daily tasks
When jobs provide autonomy, variety, significance, and meaning, individuals become self-motivated to perform.
Applying the Two-Factor Model
Herzberg’s framework made clear that eliminating dissatisfaction does not automatically create satisfaction. Instead, management must focus both on supplying adequate hygiene factors as well as optimizing motivational factors.
This has deep implications for reward systems, job design, enrichment, and overall talent management. When leveraged effectively, Herzberg’s principles can unleash powerful employee motivation and performance.