Herzberg's Motivation-Hygiene Theory or Two Factor Theory

In an effort to better understand the factors which motivated employees, Frederick Herzberg performed in dept interviews with employees looking to determine which aspects of their job they liked, and which caused them displeasure. This study revealed that one set of factors caused job satisfaction, whilst a different set of factors tended to cause job dissatisfaction. As a result, an absence of certain factors would demotivate employees, but increasing these factors past a certain level would not motivate the employees any further. In contrast, some factors would not demotivate employees if they were absent, but it they were provided they would increase employee motivation.

These results led Herzberg to terms the factors which could motivate employees ‘motivators’ whilst the factors which caused dissatisfaction if they were absent were referred to as ‘hygiene’ factors. As such, Herzberg developed that Motivation-Hygiene theory, also known as the Two Factor theory, to explain how managers could use these factors to motivate their employees.

The following factors were indicated as the most important hygiene factors:

  • Company policies
  • Quality of supervision
  • Employee’s relationship with their boss
  • General working conditions
  • Salary
  • Employee’s relationship with their peers

Whilst the following were the most important motivators:

  • Potential for achievement
  • Receiving recognition
  • The work itself
  • Being given responsibility
  • The potential for advancement
  • The potential for growth

As such, whilst an employee who has bad relationships with their peers will perform worse, someone with excellent relationships with their peers will not necessarily perform any better than those with good relationships. Furthermore, someone who has no responsibility will not perform any worse than someone with a small amount of responsibility, but someone with a good level of responsibility will perform better than both of them.

Herzberg argued that these results occurred because of the two distinct human needs represented by the two sets of factors. The hygiene factors represented physiological needs which people expected to be fulfilled: people will generally feel bad if they are hungry, poor or lonely but being full and rich does not guarantee happiness. In contrast, the motivation factors represented psychological needs that were seen as a bonus: people do not have to receive recognition to be happy, but in general receiving genuine recognition will always boost someone’s mood and motivation.

In addition, Herzberg observed that the hygiene factors tended to be external to the work: policies and salary would be set by the company, whilst relationships did not depend on what job was being done. As such, Herzberg referred to these factors as “KITA” factors, which stands for “Kick In The Ass”, as he believed that these incentives could only be used as a punishment. As such, they would only result in limited, short term benefits, as the employee would merely have to perform to avoid them being taken away. In contrast, the motivation factors were part of the work itself, and hence the harder the employee worked, the greater the motivation factors would become. Therefore these factors will tend to motivate employees to work harder.

Implications for managers and limitations

The motivation-hygiene theory implies that managers must focus their efforts in two areas: ensuring that hygiene factors are sufficient to avoid any employee dissatisfaction, whilst also ensuring that the work is rewarding and challenging enough to motivate employees to work harder. Indeed, Herzberg argued that managers must focus on job enrichment in order to motivate employees, and this must represent a continuous management process. As such, not only must the job be challenging and interesting enough to utilise the employee’s ability, but employees who have proven themselves must be given more challenging roles and increased responsibility in order to continue to be motivated. As such, if a job does not fully utilise an employee’s abilities, the task should be automated or given to someone with a lower level of skill, to avoid demotivation. However, it has been argued that the two-factor result is a natural reaction to asking employees around the sources of satisfaction and dissatisfaction in their work. This is because people will tend to claim that their own performance and role provides them with satisfaction, whilst blaming any dissatisfaction on factors outside their control, such as salary, managers and colleagues. In addition, there is little evidence to support the argument that factors which provide job satisfaction will always increase employee motivation.

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