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Analysis of Herzberg's Two-factor Theory

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Guided by the question what employees in the information society of the twenty-first century perceive as relevant for their personal motivation in comparison to Herzberg’s two-factor theory this dissertation presents a qualitative study conducted with a group of German knowledge workers. The participants reject Herzberg’s two factor theory as an adequate motivational theory for their workplace motivation. According to the participants view a cultural bias can be found in Herzberg’s theory. Furthermore the underlying assumption of Herzberg’s theory that job satisfaction and dissatisfaction depend on different factors is doubted. Instead it is suggested by the participants the difference needs to be made between motivation and job satisfaction. The theory does not reflect the German cultural tendency towards a team-based approach and the importance of safety needs for motivation. The motivator factors proposed by Herzberg only partially meet the perception of the group of participants. A mentally challenging work, visionary leadership and psychological safety are the key motivators in the researched organisation. Differences in the nature of the job and the cultural environment are suggested as reasons why earlier studies on Herzberg’s theory resulted in ambivalent findings concerning the validity of Herzberg’s theory. Implications of a possible misunderstanding of Herzberg concerning the relationship between job satisfaction, job dissatisfaction and motivation on the two-factor theory and other relevant motivational theories get discussed.

Revaluating Herzberg’s Two-Factor Theory

A 45th Anniversary

Honour where honour is due: in order to last for 45years without being disproved and maintain a place under the most influential of its kind an academic theory has to be a truly outstanding specimen. This is the case for Frederick Herzberg’s two-factor theory of workplace motivation, published in “The Motivation to Work” (Herzberg, Mausner and Snyderman) in 1959. In its essence the theory relates motivation and job satisfaction with a set of work-related factors and job dissatisfaction with a set of factors in the organisational environment.

Since its introduction in 1959 it can be said that the two-factor theory has had considerable influence on the body of science on workplace motivation. Despite existing criticism it can be stated that the two-factory theory fulfils all four criteria of a valuable academic theory (Whitsett and Winslow 1967), it has resolving and explanatory power, has generated a vast amount of further research (Herzberg 1993) and is a useful base for prediction on the topic of workplace motivation. In addition Herzberg (Herzberg, Mausner and Snyderman 1959) introduced a new research method to generate his findings, the so-called “critical incident technique” that caused great sensation and dispute in academic circles at that point in time. In this way Herzberg’s theory has lost nothing of its attractiveness to and influence on academics and manager’s alike over the past decades. In contrary it can still be found on the “manager’s motivational toolbag” for “managing into the new millennium” (Buhler 2003:20) and in modern academic textbooks (Mullins 2002, Rollinson and Broadfield 2002). The same holds true for Herzberg’s original research design, which is still used by current researchers all around the world to conduct studies on workplace motivation (Ruthankoon and Ogunlana 2003, Tamosaitis and Schwenker’s 2002, Timmreck 2001).

What makes Herzberg’s theory such an outstanding specimen amongst the various motivational theories are its underlying thoughts on organisational behaviour in general that draw largely on A.H. Maslow’s (1943) famous hierarchy of needs theory on human behaviour.

His findings in the field of motivation led Herzberg to become one of the trailblazers of the job enrichment movement during the late 1960s and 1970s that is now highly connected to his name and contributed much to Herzberg’s later fame (Clark, Chandler and Barry 1994, Hackman 1975, Reif, Ferrazzi and Evans 1974). With his ideas on job enrichment Herzberg introduced a change that still can be found in our modern job design.

Nevertheless paradigms have changed during the last 45 years. The new millennium has seen the coming of the information society and the knowledge era (Van Beveren 2002). Thus forcing change on the social and organisational environment (Mullins 2002). Writers such as Senge (1990) and Edmonson (1999) stress the importance of organisational learning and new team based approaches to keep pace with changes forced onto organisations by the growing degree of globalisation and the rapidly increasing body of knowledge. Table 0.1 highlights the changes in management during the last centuries.

Table 0.1 Comparing the paradigms


19th century

20th century

21st century

Theory of personhood

Interchangeable muscle and energy

A subordinate with a hierarchy of needs

Autonomous and reflexive individual

Information and Knowledge

The province of management alone

Management-dominated and shared on a limited basis

Widely diffused

The purpose of work


Accumulation of wealth and social status

Part of strategic life plan


With the firm and/or with the working class

Identify with a social group and/or the firm

The disenfranchised self


Disruptive and to be avoided

Disruptive but tolerated and can be settled through collective bargaining

A normal part of life

Division of labour

Managers decide, employees execute

Managers decide, employees execute thoughtfully

Employees and managers decide and execute


Concentrated on the top

Limited, functional sharing/ empowerment

Diffused and shared

Source: Mullins, Laurie J. (2002)

The radical changes in the organisational environment also made it necessary to develop new methods of analysis. Under the impression of the growing complexity of influences on organisations business research balanced its traditional static methods of quantitative research with the more flexible and dynamic research tools of qualitative research (Bryman and Bell 2003). Thus providing new ways of conducting research and revaluating the results of already existing findings.

This papers presents the results of a qualitative study conducted in a branch of a German software company in order to explore the perception of modern knowledge workers on their own workplace motivation and to compare these perceptions to Herzberg’s two-factor theory. Chapter one summarises Herzberg’s work on motivation and job enrichment as well as Maslow’s hierarchy of needs theory as an important predecessor to Herzberg’s work. Chapter two summarises the criticism on both Herzberg’s and Maslow’s work, provides a brief survey of Hofstede’s cultural framework and presents further literature relevant to the research. Chapter three introduces the company where the research was conducted and the participants. It also contains the methodology and method sections. Chapter four presents the findings of the research, while chapter five contains the discussion. Chapter six finally closes the paper with the conclusions, the limitations of the research and issues for further research.

Chapter 1: Herzberg, Maslow and Human Needs

This chapter highlights Herzberg’s two-factor theory of workplace motivation and his consecutive work on job enrichment as well as A.H. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs theory of motivation. The relations between the two theories are discussed.

1.1 Herzberg’s two-factor theory

It was in fact Herzberg’s psychological background that lead to the insights, which became the basis of his first research published in 1959 his well-known book “The Motivation to Work” (Herzberg 1993, Herzberg, Mausner and Snyderman 1959). During his time working at a public health school Herzberg came to the conclusion that “mental health is not the opposite of mental illness” (Herzberg 1993:xii). The idea that things usually believed to be each others opposite do not need to be diametrically opposed if they are determined by different factors became the foundation of Herzberg’s theory on workplace motivation. Herzberg argued that if job satisfaction was determined by different factors than dissatisfaction with the job, job satisfaction and job dissatisfaction were not precisely each others opposite and had to be treated as different aspects of work (Herzberg, Mausner and Snyderman 1959). In order to prove this hypothesis Herzberg made use of the “critical incident method”.. Herzberg conducted his initial research with a sample of 203 engineers and accountants asking them to describe one situation (critical incident) where they felt good in their job and another situation where they felt bad at work (Herzberg 1993, Rollinson, Broadfield and Edwards 1998). The analysis of the interviews was conducted by a team of researches that had been trained to understand and categorise similar statements by the participants in the same way, so that the experiences described could be grouped under a set of generic terms (Herzberg, Mausner, Boch Snyderman 1959). After this coding procedure the results became quantified, simply by counting how often each generic term had been named in connection to job satisfaction or in connection to job dissatisfaction (Herzberg, Mausner, Boch Snyderman 1959). By this means Herzberg and his team were able to extract two sets of factors from the interviews, one that was repeatedly mentioned in connection to job satisfaction or a good feeling about the job and one that was linked to job dissatisfaction or a bad feeling about the job.

Job satisfaction, according to Herzberg, is mainly a result of the actual work conducted and a series of issues that contributed to the positive perception of the work, such as recognition, achievement, the possibility of growth, advancement and responsibility (Herzberg, Mausner, Boch Snyderman 1959, Tietjen and Myers 1998). Herzberg concluded that these factors not only cause job satisfaction, but to have a positive and lasting influence on motivation, if they are present. Therefore these factors became known as “motivators”. Dissatisfaction on the other hand was caused by factors in the job environment that did not directly contribute to the work itself (Herzberg, Mausner, Boch Snyderman 1959, Mullins 2002). The positive handling of these factors, according to Herzberg, could have only a short-term effect on motivation, while these factors caused severe dissatisfaction with the job, if they were handled badly. Herzberg referred to this factors as “hygiene”.

Herzberg regarded his findings as prove for his initial hypothesis that job satisfaction and dissatisfaction were unrelated matters (Herzberg, Mausner, Boch Snyderman 1959). Hence he regarded the opposite of job satisfaction to be no satisfaction and the opposite of job dissatisfaction to be no satisfaction. Thus the presence of motivator factors would cause satisfaction and motivation and their absence only no satisfaction. The hygiene factors on the other hand would mainly lead to dissatisfaction and would in a positive case only cause a zero state of motivation or satisfaction (Mullins 2002). Motivator and Hygiene factors are contrasted in table 1.1.

Table 1.1 Motivators and Hygiene Factors


Hygiene Factors


Company policy and administration


Technical supervision

Work itself



Interpersonal relations – supervision


Working conditions

Possibility of growth



Interpersonal relations – subordinate


Interpersonal relations – peers


Private Life


Job security

Source: Tietjen and Myers 1998

Herzberg (1968, 2003) further elaborated his perception of workplace motivation in his famous article “One More Time: How Do You Motivate Employees” that has become the most reprinted article of the Harvard Business Review of all times (Herzberg 1993). By comparing the two terms motivation and movement, Herzberg rejects the classical carrot and stick approach of management. Herzberg rather follows the notion that financial incentives, a pleasant social environment or the offering of status symbols as well as punishment and disciplining by management may move or drive employees towards the fulfilment of a certain task, but will not make the task itself more interesting or motivating (Herzberg 1968). In his later work Herzberg compared hygiene to heroine, stating that more and more hygiene improvements are necessary to achieve less and less motivation (Dowling 1971). According to Herzberg (1968) only well-designed jobs, challenging tasks and the acknowledging awareness of management and colleagues will fill employees with enthusiasm for their jobs and intrinsically motivate them to carry out their tasks. Management is requested not to push employees towards organisational goals, but to provide sensible and challenging tasks that allow their subordinates to grow while working towards the organisational goals. Goal fulfilment needs to be recognised by management in an appropriate manor. Despite Herzberg’s emphasise on the fact that motivation can only be achieved by the motivators, he stresses that a proper management of the hygiene factors is equally important in order to make work not only a motivating but pleasant experience (Herzberg, Mausner and Snyderman 1959, Mullins 2002).

1.2 Herzberg’s Contribution to Job Enrichment

Herzberg did not restrict his 1968 article to be a mere summary of his earlier work on motivation. Instead he additionally presented a list of what he called “principles of vertical job loading” (Table 1.2) that indicated how jobs needed to be modified in order to show off the motivators of his two-factor theory to their advantage (Herzberg 2003:93).

Table 1.2 Principles of vertical job loading


Motivators involved

A. Removing some controls while retaining accountability

Responsibility and personal achievement

B. Increasing the accountability of individuals for own work

Responsibility and recognition

C. Giving a person a complete natural unit of work (module, division, area, and so on)

Responsibility, achievement, and recognition

D. Granting additional authority to employees in their activity, job freedom

Responsibility, achievement, and recognition

E. Making periodic reports directly available to the workers themselves rather than to supervisors

Internal recognition

F. Introducing new and more difficult tasks not previously handled

Growth and learning

G. Assigning individuals specific or specialised tasks, enabling them to become experts

Responsibility, growth, and advancement

Source: Herzberg 2003

Herzberg’s approach to create more a more fulfilling job experience by giving jobs more motivating contents and hence more meaning became known as the job enrichment movement (Hackman 1975, Reif, Ferazzi and Evans 1974). The job enrichment idea was taken up by several other writers, who partially developed rivalling concepts to the one of Herzberg, such as sociotechnical systems, participative management and industrial democracy (Herzberg 1974). Although the theories on job enrichment overlap in certain aspects, it will be sufficient for the purpose of this paper on Herzberg’s motivational theory to focus on Herzberg’s own approach that became known as “orthodox job enrichment”, as this concept is most strongly linked to Herzberg’s motivator-hygiene theory (Herzberg 1974). In his paper “The wise old Turk” Herzberg (1974) presents are more complete approach to job enrichment compared to his principles on vertical job loading mentioned above. Job enrichment, he argues, is based on the relationships between ability, opportunity and performance reinforcement. The more ability an employee possesses to do his or her work, Herzberg points out, the easier this employee can be motivated to do a good job. This principle is of significance for the organisation’s policies on recruitment and selection as well training and development, as a person who is lacking the necessary competence is far more difficult to motivate. Ability on the other hand is of no use, if the job does not offer the opportunity to make full use of one’s own abilities, or as Herzberg (1974:71) puts it “managers cannot motivate a person to do a good job, unless there is a good job to do”. Finally the employee’s readiness to grow with his work needs to be reinforced. Appraisal systems do not only need to appreciate the employee’s growth, they need to reward growth with the potential for further growth and advancement, as “there is no sense in providing training without opportunity, no sense in offering opportunity without training, and no sense in offering both training and opportunity if the reinforcement is solely by hygiene procedures” (Herzberg 1974:71).

Herzberg (1974) continues by presenting eight features a “good” job should include, direct feedback, a client relationship, a learning function, the opportunity for each person to schedule his own work, unique expertise, control over resources, direct communications and personal accountability. Direct feedback can consist of the immediate response of the supervisor to the results of the subordinate or even better the opportunity for the subordinate to independently verify his or her efforts him or herself. The relationship to a specific client gives the employee the opportunity to better understand the needs and problems of his or her customer and participate in their solution. Herzberg (1974) recommends to organise internal supplier-client relationships for back office employees in order to increase their interest in the overall work processes. New learning refers to possibilities for the employee to grow psychologically in order to keep his or her job meaning or purposeful. It further allows the employee to constantly update his or her knowledge in order to maintain the necessary competence in a fast changing economical environment. Scheduling is supposed to grant the employee the freedom of how to structure his or her tasks. While the deadlines are still set by management the employee becomes free to set his or her own pace to keep them. Unique expertise aims at giving each employee a more or less individual field of competence in order to increase his or her identification with the task. Control over resources is meant to allocate the means for a project to the lowest possible level of hierarchy in order to increase the responsibility of the lower ranks. Direct communications authority allows employees to address their colleagues in other parts of the organisation in formal matters directly without having to involve the hierarchy. Thus saving time and improving the social relations within the organisation. Personal accountability finally frees the employee from doing single in itself meaningless tasks and provides responsibility for a coherent set of tasks with which the employee can identify. Although these factors are closer to reality than the principles of vertical job loading in table 1.2 it is still fairly obvious how their implementation can contribute to including the motivators of Herzberg’s two-factor theory mentioned in table 1.1 into the employees’ daily work.

In 1979 Herzberg published an even more refined view on job enrichment, based on a model that highlighted the central importance of the client relationship for orthodox job enrichment. The relationship to a client, according to Herzberg, would improve an employees opportunity to constantly update his knowledge of the customer’s needs and requirements thus enabling to stay in touch with the latest developments, increasing his knowledge and contributing to the employee’s unique expertise. Herzberg’s model of job enrichment is depicted in figure 1.1.

Figure 1.1 Herzberg’s Model of Job Enrichment


Over Resources

Direct Feedback

New learning

Client Relationship

Unique Expertise



Direct Communications Authority

Personal Accountability

Source: Herzberg 1979

1.3 Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Theory

Published in 1943 A.H. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs theory is in fact not only a predecessor of Herzberg’s two-factor theory, but its basis as it will be pointed out later (Mullins 2002, Rollinson and Broadfield 2002). Maslow (1943) suggests that motivation is a result of five different sets of human needs and desires, namely physiological, safety, love, esteem and self-actualisation needs (Mullins 2002, Rollinson and Broadfield 2002, Clark, Chandler and Barry 1998). Physiological needs refer to the most essential issues of human survival such as food and drink, air to breath, sleep, reproduction and so on. Safety needs include physical safety, but also the human desire for predictability and orderliness. Love needs consist of all sorts of social affiliation and their advantages. Esteem needs include self-esteem and the confidence in one’s own abilities as well as the recognition and admiration by others. Self-actualisation needs finally refer to the ultimate experience of self-fulfilment and the idea of becoming the person one always wanted to be. Although Maslow (1943) only wrote about a hierarchy, his levels of needs usually are pictured as a pyramid (Figure 1.2).

Figure 1.2 Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs







Source: Mullins 2002

People, according to Maslow (1943), process through these levels of needs in a hierarchical order, as one level of needs gets satisfied it loses its motivating effect making the individual long for the satisfaction of the next set of needs. Without at least a certain degree of satisfaction in one level of needs, however, people will not be interested in the satisfaction of the higher levels and hence no motivation will be triggered by those higher needs. Maslow (1943) gives the example of the starving person that cannot be motivated by any other means than food. If this person had enough to eat, food will cease to be a motivator and - given the fact that physiological needs in general are perceived satisfying - the person’s motivation will turn to the realisation of the next higher set of needs.

Maslow (1943) himself pointed out the hierarchical order in which he arranged the needs was not a strict one. Instead several issues can have an influence on this order. First of all a set of needs does not need to be entirely satisfied in order to allow the individual to proceed to the next level, already a certain degree of satisfaction can be enough for the individual to aim for another set of needs. In this case, however, the unsatisfied parts of the earlier level will remain motivators. Additionally the structure of the hierarchy may vary according to personalities. Some people may have a stronger interest in esteem than in love and therefore want to satisfy the esteem needs earlier. Psychotic persons may have no interest in specific satisfaction of certain levels of needs such as love at all, while highly idealistic persons may sacrifice everything in pursuit of just one single need. Another group of persons may be satisfied with settling in one level of the hierarchy without being interested in satisfying any higher levels. Furthermore it has to be kept in mind that definitely most actions taken by individuals serve more than just one set of needs. A dinner with friends in a luxurious restaurant for example will not only satisfy physiological needs but may also satisfy aspects of love and esteem.

Although Maslow’s theory initially was not meant to be applied to the work context it soon became influential in the analysis of workplace motivation as well (Mullins 2002, Rollinson and Broadfield 2002). Steers and Porter for example elaborated real-life incentives within the work environment that could be used to serve all of the employees’ needs as shown in table 1.3. Alderfer further extended Maslow’s thoughts in his ERG theory (Mullins 2002, Rollinson and Broadfield 2002).

Table 1.3 Application of Maslow’s Theory to the Work Context

Needs levels

General rewards

Organisational factors

1. Physiological

Food, water, sex, sleep

a Pay

b Pleasant working conditions

c Cafeteria

2. Safety

Safety, security, stability, protection

a Safe working conditions

b Company benefits

c Job security

3. Social

Love, affection, belongingness

a Cohesive work group

b Friendly supervision

c Professional associations

4. Esteem

Growth, advancement, creativity

a Social recognition

b Job title

c High status job

d Feedback from the job itself

5. Self-actualisation

Growth, advancement, creativity

a Challenging job

b Opportunities for creativity

c Achievement in work

d Advancement in the organisation

Source: Mullins 2002

Alderfer’s extension of Maslow’s original theory became known under the name ERG theory, because it reduced Maslow’s five levels of needs to three, existence, relatedness and growth (Mullins 2002). The existence level includes Maslow’s physiological needs and the aspects of physical safety. Relatedness consists of aspects of the love-needs as well as the social aspects of safety and esteem. Growth as the third level includes the self related issues of esteem and the self-actualisation needs. In contrast to Maslow Alderfer considered the possibility that individuals also can progress down the hierarchy (Mullins 2002). Furthermore research by Alderfer revealed that existence needs indeed increase or decrease in importance according to their grade of satisfaction (Mullins 2002). On the other hand research did not support the notion that the satisfaction of existence needs caused an increased interest in relatedness or growth needs. Alderfer therefore believed the sets of needs to resemble more a continuum, in which people constantly shifted between the needs, than an actual hierarchy (Mullins 2002).

1.4 Combining Herzberg, Maslow and Related Writers

The literature on motivation and organisational behaviour regards Maslow’s work as the foundation of Herzberg’s two-factor theory and highlights the obvious linkages (Mullins 2002, Rollinson and Broadfield 2002). Connections can be drawn between Herzberg’s hygiene factors and Maslow’s lower level needs and Herzberg’s motivators in comparison to Maslow’s esteem and self-actualisation needs. By comparing Herzberg’s, Maslow’s and Alderfer’s theories in one table their relation becomes visible.

Table 1.4 Linking the Theories

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs


ERG theory


two-factor theory





Growth/ Relatedness


Hygiene Factors



Hygiene Factors


Relatedness/ Existence

Hygiene Factors



Hygiene Factors

Source: adopted from Mullins 2002

Despite the individual differences between the three theories, they share common ground by relating motivation to human needs. The more general theories of Maslow and Alderfer state that all sets of needs can have motivational effects as long as they are not satisfied, while Herzberg assumes that the satisfaction of lower level needs within the work context can only avoid dissatisfaction and that a lack of satisfaction of those needs will not lead to increased motivation but to dissatisfaction. It is noteworthy that having a job, already satisfies a number of lower level needs by providing money, safety and a arguably affiliation. On the other hand all three theories agree that typically people aim for higher needs such as esteem and self-fulfilment. Herzberg argues that these higher level needs truly cause motivation in the work context and can be satisfied by stipulating tasks and a challenging job design, hence his commitment in the job enrichment movement. The comparison of Herzberg’s motivator, hygiene and job enrichment factors and Steers’ and Porter’s organisational factors in Table 1.5 points out that that Herzberg’s two-factor theory and Maslow’s hierarchy of needs basically, despite their different perspectives, lead to the same ideas on how workplace motivation can be increased. Current writers in the field of organisational behaviour in comparison of the theories presented above attach most value to Herzberg’s work, as it is already designed for the work context, easier to verify by the means of business research and has been effectively tested in various cultural settings (Mullins 2002, Rollinson and Broadfiel 2002, Herzberg 1987).

Table 1.5 Comparison of Factors




Steers and Porter

Needs levels


a Salary

b Working Conditions

a Pay

b Pleasant working conditions

c Cafeteria

1. Physiological


a Job security

a Safe working conditions

b Company benefits

c Job security

2. Safety


Relations to

a peers

b supervisors

c subordinates

a Cohesive work group

b Friendly supervision

c Professional associations

3. Social



a Status

b Direct feedback

c Recognition

d Responsibility

a Social recognition

b Job title

c High status job

d Feedback from the job itself

4. Esteem


a Work itself

b Achievement

c Advancement

d Growth

a Challenging job

b Opportunities for creativity

c Achievement in work

d Advancement in the organisation

5. Self-actualisation

Chapter 2: Criticism and Further Research

This chapter critically evaluates the individual theories of Maslow and Herzberg and provides further important research.

2.1 Evaluating the Hierarchy of Needs Theory

Although Maslow himself was fairly tentative concerning his work, regarding the hierarchy of needs more as a concept than a fully developed theory and recognising that it certainly had weaknesses, his approach received much attention in academic circles, reflecting the value of Maslow’s ideas (Mullins 2002, Rollinson and Broadfield 2002, Clark, Chandler and Barry 1998). The academic examination with Maslow’s theory produced further criticism adding to Maslow’s own limitations. Rollinson and Broadfield (2002) drawing provide a summary of this criticism drawing on various sources. Probably most important is the finding that Maslow’s model is highly ethnocentric, reflecting the American believes in individuality, personal freedom, self-esteem and self-fulfilment and neglecting the higher emphasis on social needs in China for example. Further it has been pointed out that Maslow’s theory is indeed limited in their applicability to the work context, as it only highlights the individuals’ internal needs, but does neither deal with the organisational structure and administration nor the influences of work itself. Further it has been pointed out that some needs do not necessarily tend to have a reduced motivational potential even when they get satisfied (Rollinson and Broadfield 2002). People at the workplace sometimes continue to long for status and autonomy even after achieving recognisable success in these areas. Finally Maslow’s theory comes close to substituting motivation with satisfaction, a notion that has been disproved by research. Satisfaction is not necessarily linked to increased performance at work but provably is linked to issues such as absenteeism and staff turnover.

2.2 Evaluating Herzberg’s Two-Factor Theory and Orthodox Job Enrichment

The presentation of Herzberg’s two-factor theory in 1959 was met with much praise as well as severe criticism and followed by a wave of ensuing academic research. An excellent example for the dispute of the two camps are the papers by Whitsett and Winslow and House and Wigdor published simultaneously in the journal “Personnel Psychology” in 1967. Both papers drawing on extensive literature reviews partially claiming the same piece of research as being evidence for or against Herzberg’s initial findings. Both papers accuse the other camp of methodological weaknesses in research and the misunderstanding of Herzberg’s original conclusions. With the advantage of hindsight it is possible to evaluate Herzberg’s work in a more sober way.

The criticism of the two-factor theory already starts with Herzberg’s methodology or more precise his critical incident technique, as explained in chapter 1.1. Several writers state that the critical incident method could be prone to personal bias, people tend to connect positive events with their own behaviour and negative events with their environment (Rollinson, Broadfield 2002, Tietjen and Myers 1998, House and Wigdor 1967). Chapter 1.1 presented Herzberg’s hypothesis that job satisfaction and dissatisfaction could in fact be two different matters. The critical incident method, highlighting only an employee’s most extreme experiences with job satisfaction and dissatisfaction, is certainly a promising tool for the verification of this hypothesis, as it presents isolated views on satisfaction and dissatisfaction, which can be used for comparison. The method fails, however, to ask whether the participants do also have any positive experiences with the factors that lead to dissatisfaction or any negative experiences with the factors that caused satisfaction, after all even the most critical events do not describe the participants’ general perception of the factors mentioned or how these factors are observed in everyday life. In this way the critical incident method may miss out important linkages between the issues relating to job satisfaction or dissatisfaction.

The second problematical issue about Herzberg’s theory is the one responsible for the confusion in the papers of Whitsett and Winslow (1967) and House and Wigdor (1967). Herzberg (1993, 1987, 1968) and his supporters (Whitsett and Winslow 1967) often refer to the many repetitions of the initial research in different settings in order to emphasise the correctness of Herzberg’s findings. Their arguments resemble the following paragraph by Mullins (2002:431) that refers to Herzberg’s 1974 book “Work and the nature of man”:

Since the original study the theory had been replicated many times with different types of workers, including scientists, engineers, technicians, professional workers, nurses, food handlers, assemblers, and maintenance staff. The samples have covered a number of different nationalities. Results of these studies have been largely consistent with the original findings”.

It is the “largely” that matters. The problem is best described by Ruthankoon and Ogunlana (2003), who refer to as much as eight studies in which one or two of Herzberg’s factors switched sides between motivators and hygiene or could be found on both sides. Ruthakoon’s and Ogunlana’s (2003) own research in the Thai construction industry showed a similar pattern. As motivators were found: responsibility, advancement, possibility of growth, and supervision. Hygiene factors were: working conditions, job security, site safety, and relationship with other organisations. In this way difficulties arise concerning the assignment of the results, are they in favour of Herzberg’s theory or are they not?

In their most basic form Herzberg’s findings hold true, motivator and hygiene factors could be identified and separated. On the other hand supervision changed from being a hygiene factor to being a motivator. Other factors of the original theory motivators as well as hygiene factors were absent, while new factors arose from the new setting. Thus showing that Herzberg’s original sets of motivators and hygiene factors cannot be generalised, as different settings can create different outcomes. Even more striking is the existence of studies that were not able to clearly identify several factors as motivators or hygiene factors. In his original study from 1959 Herzberg himself had difficulties in determining if salary was to be understood as motivator or hygiene factor, as it was equally often reported on both sides by his initial participants (Herzberg 1959). This kind of “semi-agreement” is evident also in the lengthy literature reviews of Whitsett and Winslow (1967) and House and Wigdor (1967) and makes their dispute rather pointless as most research can not satisfactory be determined as for or against Herzberg’s findings.

Confusion about Herzberg’s findings takes its tall when the contributions of Wall and Stephenson (1970) and King (in Mullins 2002) are taken into consideration. Not only do Wall and Stephenson offer another voluminous literature review that underlines the draw between studies for and against Herzberg’s theory, they also suggest that the theory can be interpreted in four different ways. King (in Mullins 2002) suggests there are at least five. Without going into details these interpretations raise questions about the weighting of motivators and hygiene factors in relation to job satisfaction. Does one motivator outweigh all hygiene factors in its influence on satisfaction and vice versa in the case of dissatisfaction? Do the hygiene factors as a whole really do not add to job satisfaction at all and does the lack of motivators really cause not the slightest dissatisfaction?

From the issues discussed above two conclusion can be drawn. First the distinction between motivators and hygiene factors is subject to repeated inconsistencies. This aspect is strengthened by the finding that the two-factor theory can not properly be applied to workers with highly unskilled jobs, who lack any possibility for personal growth in their work, a fact that even Herzberg had to admit (Mullins 2002, Herzberg 1993). In the literature reviewed no consistent explanation is given to the variance of motivator and hygiene factors in different settings. Second research, so far, could not definitely proof the two-factory theory right or wrong. Instead it ends up with results that emphasise something in between. Therefore it can be assumed that the two-factory has indeed some explanatory power but that it is somewhat incomplete, missing a part of the puzzle necessary to get closer to reality.

Furthermore some of the criticism on Maslow’s theory can be transferred to the two-factor theory. First of all with his questions on incidents when participants felt particularly good or bad, Herzberg similar to Maslow draws the fragile connection between job satisfaction and motivation. Second not all employees necessarily are interested in excelling at work. There are certainly people, who regard work only as an mean to end and pay more interest to their private lives. There may also be a cultural aspect, not every culture promotes the ideal of professional careers and individual economic success in the same way the American culture does. In their nature both Maslow’s and Herzberg’s theory are fairly ego driven theories the individual is believed to pursue his or her own personal success and self-actualisation. The needs for social affiliation and security are secondary to esteem and self-fulfilment. Herzberg takes this thought into the work environment, advancement, responsibility and growth are regarded as important motivators. Interpersonal relations are believed to have no influence on satisfaction or motivation. The aim of working life is to excel in work and realise one’s own benefits. This directly relates to Herzberg’s ideas on job enrichment.

Job enrichment even more strongly than the two-factor theory expects employees to be motivated by higher level needs such as esteem and self-actualisation in the work context. Even Maslow, however, has pointed out that there is a particular group of persons that is not attracted by those needs, therefore it is debatable if all workers are really prepared to constantly grow and learn within their jobs and if responsibility always appreciated as a reward.

As a more practical approach to management theory job enrichment has not attracted as much theoretical criticism as the two-factor theory. Instead it has been judged by authors in the field on its practical use and on its contributions to organisational effectiveness in terms of human resource management. Writers such Hackman (1975) and Reif, Ferrazzi and Evans (1974) appreciate the general value of job enrichment for organisations but highlight difficulties in its implementation. According to these authors a sensible job enrichment program requires detailed planning, a considerable amount of resources and most important top management commitment. Hackman (1975) illustrates several problems with the implementation of job enrichment programs. Often there is no systematic plan which jobs need to be enriched and how. Job enrichment is connected to a high amount of administrational matters, such documenting the changes, thus causing the actual changes to progress slowly and to remain marginal, especially in those jobs where enrichment is needed most. Additionally changes in one part of the organisation can cause unexpected difficulties another as routines stop to fit to each other. The lack of necessary training can cause overstrain for the personnel responsible for the changes. Finally the omission of reducing the bureaucratic overhead in as much as the redesigned jobs become more autonomous can stifle the effects of the enrichment program. For the purpose of this paper, however, it is not necessary to take this issues any further.

2.3 Culture

Despite the fact that Herzberg’s two-factor theory has been tested in many different cultures, it has been pointed out in chapter 2.2 that not all repetitions of Herzberg’s study produced the same results allowing for speculation that there may be cultural issues involved. In any way a critical evaluation of an American theory in a German context needs a cultural control mechanism in order to be able to highlight possible cultural influences. For this reason the cultural framework developed by Hofstede (2001, 1994) has been chosen, as it directly relates culture to the work context.

Hofstede (2001, 1994) describes cultures along four dimensions: power distance, individualism/collectivism, masculinity/femininity and uncertainty avoidance. Power distance applied to work context is expressed especially in the hierarchies and the leadership style. Both Germany and America have a low power distance that is related to a low hierarchies and a more democratic leadership. Masculinity/femininity at the workplace determines how much assertiveness managers exercise and how much solidarity and equality exists within the workforce. Both America and Germany score fairly high on masculinity indicating a tendency towards more assertiveness. Uncertainty avoidance directly relates to motivation in the work context. Germans having a far stronger uncertainty avoidance than the Americans are motivated by security, esteem and belongingness, while Americans are more strongly motivated by achievement, esteem and belongingness. Individualist countries such as America tend to have a management that is strongly focused on the individual and the task prevails over the relationships at work, certainly two issues that are reflected in Herzberg’s theory as stated above. Germany however only has medium score in individualism pointing towards a more team-based approach and a stronger focus on relationships.

2.4 Additional Research

The changed environment of the twenty-first century that has already been identified as the information society and the knowledge era in the introduction of this paper soon put an end to the unhindered rise of the individual. Tasks became to complex and the development of new knowledge to rapid to be handled by one person alone. In his work on the learning organisation Senge (1990) picks up on Herzberg’s convictions on learning and growth, but illustrates the modern organisational dilemma that the workers are not necessarily alienated from their labour anymore but from their learning experiences, thus stifling the both the individual’s and the organisation’s possibility for growth. Citing Deming Senge (1990) points out that “people are born with intrinsic motivation, self-esteem, dignity, curiosity to learn, joy in learning” (Deming in Senge 1990:7), but “unfortunately, the primary institutions of our society are oriented predominantly toward controlling rather than learning, rewarding individuals for performing for others rather than for cultivating their natural curiosity and impulse to learn” (Senge 1990:7). Senge’s (1990) solution for this dilemma, in contrast to Herzberg, lies not in work design, but in leadership. Both solutions, however, are not mutually exclusive. According to Senge (1990) the role of a leader is threefold. The leader needs to act as a designer, a teacher and a steward. As a designer the leader shapes the purpose and the core values of the organisation or its respective parts. In his role as a teacher the leader acts as coach, a guide and a facilitator, helping employees to develop their own thoughts and introducing them to new topics. As steward the leader acknowledges that employees depend on him in an economical, emotional and spiritual way. Therefore the leader has to develop the understanding that he has to serve the people first by supporting them in any of the three ways mentioned before he can demand something from the people. Senge (1990) continues that leaders in order to succeed in their roles need to develop compelling external and internal visions. It is not enough to formulate just an extrinsic vision, such as the outperforming all competitors. There also have to be substantial internal goals concerning issues like the creation of new products or the improvement of internal processes and services. To effectively formulate these visions a leader needs a balanced competence in administrative and professional knowledge as pointed out by Etzioni (1964). The administrative competence for the formulation of a strategy for the organisation to thrive in the external environment and the professional knowledge to formulate best possible internal improvements. As few leaders are outstanding in both competences Senge (1990) asks leaders to actively seek the advice from the employees thus highlighting the need for the shared knowledge and diffused power in the twenty-first century’s organisation presented in table 0.1.

In another approach towards learning in the organisational context Edmonson (1999) takes a more employee-based approach towards this issue focusing on the needs of modern work teams. From Edmonson’s research it becomes obvious that team performance is not based on structural features such as team composition, well-designed tasks, and the availability of information, resources and rewards alone, but also depends on the team’s ability of joint learning. Edmonson (1999) points out that team learning is based on seeking feedback, sharing information, asking for help, talking about errors and experimenting. As it is through these activities “that teams can detect changes in the environment, learn about customers’ requirements, improve members’ collective understanding of a situation, or discover unexpected consequences of their previous actions” (Edmonson 1999:351). The most important precondition for joint team learning, according to Edmonson (1999), however is a feeling of psychological safety. Team members tend to hold back unique knowledge to their own advantage. Further they ask for help or admit mistakes only reluctantly as they fear that showing a weakness may cause negative effects for own advancement within the organisation. Creating psychological safe atmosphere thus becomes central organisational goal. Edmonson’s findings come close to the notion of (Mayo in Clark, Chandler and Barry, Etzioni 1964) that organisational effectiveness is a result of social aspects and group dynamics in the work context. Further they reveal that safety needs as described in Maslow’s theory in chapter 1.3 play a key role in regulating that group dynamics.

Senge’s (1990) and Edmonson’s findings can be regarded as two sides of the same coin. While Edmonson (1990) highlights the need for organisations to support their teams with psychological safety in order to generate economic success, Senge (1990) describes how leadership can contribute to creating such an atmosphere. The combination of Senge’s and Edmonson’s contributions thus indicates how the conflict that dominates the literature of organisational behaviour (Etzioni 1964, Mullins 2002, Clark, Chandler and Barry 1995) between the formal, structural and administrative features of an organisation and the social needs of its employees can be harmonised in the modern organisation. Although both ideas do not contradict Herzberg’s theories directly, they raise doubts on the ability of the individual’s ability to obtain higher level needs all alone. It seems as in the modern work context the individual strongly depends on its social environment in order to sensibly conduct work, what is Herzberg’s prerequisite for motivation. Furthermore both author’s point out that learning today is not a “fancy” feature to enrich a job with, but a necessity and a task in itself, that determines whether an employee remains employed or not. Thus the motivational effect of learning may has become obsolete in the modern working context.

Ryan’s and Deci’s (2000) criticism on job enrichment is of a completely different nature. In a clear allusion to Herzberg’s comparison between motivation and movement they point out that extrinsic motivation, motivation that is related to a separable outcome, does necessarily have to be worse than intrinsic motivation, that is caused by an inherent joy or interest, nor is it of less importance. In this way Ryan and Deci (2000) reject the typical belittling of external motivation in the literature on this field. Although Ryan and Deci (2000) acknowledge that internal motivation is a desirable state, they argue that in reality it seldom occurs. Even the best job enrichment is not able to create a job that is fully intrinsically motivating. There are always tasks that are liked less or that become routine. In fact these tasks will dominate most jobs and activities, still they get done. As this is evidently not the result of intrinsic motivation, there need to be external reasons why people “move” themselves to carry out these tasks, otherwise there had to be a state of no motivation as they call it “amotivation” and the task would not get done at all. In the worst case this is because of the fear of punishment, in best case this is because the people understand the reason why the tasks needs to be done and are able to identify with this reason. Ryan and Deci (2000) point out that the feelings of a person in the worst case scenario will differ from the feelings of a person in the positive scenario. From this they conclude that different states of external motivation have to exist. In their self-determination theory they differentiate between four states of external motivation that lie between the to extremes amotivation and intrinsic motivation. A model of these states is attached to this paper as Appendix A. According to Ryan and Deci (2000) the difference between these for states lies in the grade to which the individual can identify with the reason to carry out the task, the value that is given to the task in comparison to the person’s own set of goals. Reflecting this notion the four states are external regulation, introjection, identification and integration. External integration is closest to amotivation and is determined completely external to the individual. The state of external integration is achieved by the threat of punishment or the offering of rewards. The state of introjection is achieved when the ego is involved in the task, mainly because of the desire for approval from oneself or others.

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