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Herzberg theory: Made simple

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If you are studying motivation then you have probably heard of the Herzberg theory. Whether you are a student writing an essay, or a manager looking to increase motivation in the workplace, understanding the Herzberg theory is a really useful tool.

But the word ‘theory’ often puts us off, especially if we haven’t been in an educational setting for a while. But don’t worry! The Herzberg theory is actually really simple to understand! In this article I will give you a SIMPLE explanation of the Herzberg theory, explaining why it is important and how understanding it can help companies to increase job satisfaction, and consequently, positive business outcomes. What are you waiting for? Read on…

Who was Frederick Herzberg?

Frederick Herzberg developed an important motivational theory.

Frederick Herzberg was an American clinical psychologist who is largely regarded as one of the most influential academics in the field of management and motivation theory.

Born in 1923, Herzberg dedicated his life to his research. He conducted his work (first as a student then as an employee) at the City College of New York, the University of Pittsburgh, Case Western Reserve University and Utah’s College of Business.

Herzberg’s work was first introduced to the world in 1959 through the publication of his book The Motivation to Work. As his work became more widespread, his theories were applied in a range of contexts and industries, from manufacturing to healthcare, to travel and tourism. Within twenty five years his work had produced more replications than any other research in the history of industrial and organisational psychology.

Herzberg sadly died in the year 2000, but his work lives on. Herzberg’s theories continue to be fundamental theories in the study of motivation and are used in a wide range of disciplines and contexts.

Why is Herzberg’s theory important?

Herzberg theory

The Herzberg theory is used in workplaces around the world.

One the main advantages of this theory is that it is accessible to all- because it is so easy to understand and apply! There are many theories in the world that are complicated and incomprehensible for those outside of academia, but Herzberg’s theory is not one of them.

Herzberg’s theory has enabled managers to enhance employee motivation in a range of contexts. If employees are motivated they will produce better outcomes. These outcomes may include:

  • Working faster
  • Working more efficiently
  • Better collaboration with colleagues
  • Better staff retention
  • Lowever staff turnover
  • Less sickness amongst staff
  • Better mental health amongst staff
  • High incomes for the company

Ultimately, motivation increases productivity. Productivity then increases income, which for the vast majority of companies, is the ultimate goal. So, you could say that Herzberg has been making people money for decades!

What is the Herzberg two factor theory?

OK, so now we understand why the Herzberg theory is important, lets look at how it actually works.

But before we get started, it is important to be aware that Herberg’s theory is often referred to differently. Don’t be confused though- there is just one theory, it has just developed a few different names over the years. You may see/hear the following names:

  • Herzberg theory
  • Herzberg’s Motivation Theory
  • Two Factor Theory
  • Herzberg’s Motivation-Hygiene Theory
  • Duel Structure Theory

The Herzberg theory was developed to help us understand motivation in the workplace. How can staff be better motivated? How can we yield the most productivity from staff? What makes staff happy/unhappy? Hersberg’s Two Factor Theory attempts to answer these important questions…

Frederick Herzberg developed the model in 1959. He did this by interviewing over 200 professionals. The interviews delved into when the interviewees were at their most and least happiest with their jobs.

Herzberg wanted to get to the root of motivation in the workplace. He wanted to truly understand why employees performed the way that they did and what the underlying causes for this were/are. In doing so, he identified two factors, which he called ‘motivators’ and ‘hygiene factors’.

The Herzberg theory looks at both satisfaction and dissatisfaction. Herzberg identified that these states arise from different factors and, in contrast to popular belief, are in fact not opposites.

Herzberg stated that:

‘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.

1. Motivating Factors

The presence of motivators causes employees to work harder. They are found within the actual job itself.

Herzberg’s theory is largely compatible with Maslow’s theory of motivation.

2. Hygiene Factors

The absence of hygiene factors will cause employees to work less hard. Hygiene factors are not present in the actual job itself but surround the job.

The impact of motivating and hygiene factors is summarized in the following diagram. Note that you will often see motivators referred to as factors for satisfaction, and hygiene factors referred to as factors for dissatisfaction.

Motivation factors

Motivating factors include:

  • Achievement– A job must give an employee a sense of achievement
  • Responsibility– Employees want to feel that they have a sense of responsibility at work. They should have their own specific responsibilities and ownership over these.
  • Recognition– Employees need recognition of their successes. This should come from both management and co-workers.
  • The job itself– The work that the employee does must be interesting, providing challenges and stimulation as necessary.
  • Advancement– There should be opportunities for promotion and progression.
  • Growth– The job should give employees the opportunity to learn new skills and undertake continuous professional development (CPD).

Hygiene factors

Hygiene factors include:

  • Wages– The salary should be fair and reasonable. There should be transparency about who earns what and a clear pay scale if appropriate. Pay should be at the standard rate for the sector.
  • Purpose– The employee should know what their status and purpose is within the organisation. This might include an organisation chart or similar.
  • Security– It is important that employees feel safe and secure at work and that they have job security.
  • Company policies– Company policies should be in place and should be accessible to all. These should be fair and clear.
  • Supervision– The employee should have the appropriate level of supervision.
  • Relationships– Healthy relationships are an important part of work and there should be no tolerance for bullying or inappropriate behaviour towards others.
  • Working conditions– Employees should have access to the appropriate equipment and facilities and these should be well maintained.

The four states of motivation in Herzberg’s theory

When we examine Herzberg’s theory we can see that there are four dominant ‘states of motivation’. I have outlined these for you below:

High Hygiene and High Motivation

This is the best scenario. When hygiene is high and motivation is high it demonstrates that employees are generally happy and motivated.

High Hygiene and Low Motivation

If hygiene is high but motivation is low it demonstrates that employees have few grievances, but they are not highly motivated. This could occur when working conditions are good but promotion opportunities are low, for example.

Low Hygiene and High Motivation

If there is low hygiene and high motivation it demonstrates that employees are motivated, but there are many things that are bothering them at work. An example of this could be if they work a very interesting and engaging job, but receive little money in compensation for this.

Low Hygiene and Low Motivation

And lastly, if hygiene is low and motivation is low it demonstrates that employees are not happy in the workplace and there are likely many variables at play here that have caused the employee to feel this way.

Herzberg theory of motivation in the workplace

There is a two-step process to use the Two Factor Theory model to increase the motivation within the workplace.

  1. Eliminate job hygiene stressors.
  2. Boost job satisfaction.

Lets talk about these in a little bit more detail…

Eliminate Job Hygiene Stressors

Of course, hygiene stressors are not going to contribute to employee motivation and therefore must be reduced. However, the problem lies with the subjectivity of the term ‘stressors’ and the way that each human being will react differently to a given situation. In other words, an issue that may cause upset for one person may not always have the same effect for another person. As such, it is important to work closely with individual members of staff in order to understand any concerns or issues that they may have.

Boost Job Satisfaction

Once the hygiene stressors are eliminated or reduced, it is time to focus on job satisfaction. There are a number of things that can help to increase job satisfaction, including:

  • Giving the employee more challenging tasks to complete
  • Giving an employee a greater variety of tasks to perform
  • Giving an employee additional responsibilities

Benefits of the Herzberg theory

Herzberg’s theory can be really useful in the workplace and has a number of benefits for its use, such as:

  • It helps us to understand employee-employer relationships
  • It emphasises the aspects that can negatively impact motivation in the workplace
  • It helps us to understand that employee motivation is multifaceted

Limitations of the Herzberg theory

As with any theory, the Herzberg theory is not perfect, some common criticisms of Herzberg’s Motivation Theory include:

  • The theory focusses on white collar workers
  • It is too generalised, failing to account for individual circumstances
  • Employee satisfaction does not always translate into productivity- the theory does not address this
  • Measuring employee satisfaction is a difficult task
  • There are inherent subjectivities and biases

The Herzberg theory in travel and tourism

The Herzberg theory is used throughout many different industries and by many different types of people! In the travel and tourism industry this theory can be used to help businesses to better understand how to motivate their staff, just in the same way that it does for any other industry!

Herzberg theory: Further reading

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