Herzberg’s two-factor theory argues that certain workplace factors cause job satisfaction while others cause job dissatisfaction. The theory was developed by American psychologist and business management analyst Frederick Herzberg. Until his death in 2000, Herzberg was widely regarded as a pioneering thinker in motivational theory.
Understanding Herzberg’s two-factor theory
Frederick Herzberg became interested in studying the effects of employee attitudes on motivation in the workplace. After surveying employees on when they felt good and bad about their jobs, Herzberg categorized the results according to two factors:
- Motivating factors – or intrinsic motivators that tend to be less tangible and more emotional. Recognition, growth potential, responsibility, and sound working relationships are examples of motivating factors. These factors – sometimes called satisfiers – motivate employees to give superior performance.
- Hygiene factors – or extrinsic motivators that tend to be more tangible needs such as job security, salary, physical working conditions, and fringe benefits. Hygiene factors are commonly referred to as maintenance factors because they must be present in sufficient enough to avoid job dissatisfaction.
Implications for Herzberg’s two-factor theory
Herzberg’s two-factor theory differs from similar models because it incorporates employee expectations. These expectations drive an inverse relationship between intrinsic and extrinsic motivators. That is, intrinsic motivators reduce motivation when they are present, while extrinsic motivators reduce motivation when they are absent.
For example, extrinsic motivators such as job security do not increase motivation when present. But they do cause dissatisfaction when they are missing. Crucially, hygiene factors will never result in an employee becoming highly satisfied – regardless of their strength or abundance.
Motivating factors, on the other hand, help an employee becoming highly satisfied. But their absence will never result in high levels of dissatisfaction.
To better explain how each factor interacts with the other, Herzberg outlined four possible combinations:
- High hygiene/high motivation – where employees have high motivation and few complaints. This is an ideal scenario for employees and businesses alike.
- High hygiene/low motivation – where there are few complaints but employees are not motivated. Employees see their role as a means to an end or a “paycheck” job.
- Low hygiene/high motivation – common in many start-up businesses. The job may be relatively exciting and challenging but there is not yet sufficient remuneration or satisfactory working conditions. Basic job security and adequate salaries should be established as quickly as possible.
- Low hygiene/low motivation – the most undesirable combination which often leads to high employee turnover.
Limitations of Herzberg’s two-factor theory
Unfortunately, Herzberg’s theory is not immune to limitations.
Some of these include:
- A focus on broader workplace contexts, thereby ignoring situational variables that could also contribute to job satisfaction.
- Uncertain reliability. The theory relies on employee survey data which could be biased or inaccurate.
- No consideration for blue-collar workers. However, the theory can be adapted for blue-collar industries if required.
- A framework based on an assumed correlation between job satisfaction and productivity – without adequate research to confirm such a correlation.
- Herzberg’s two-factor theory argues that employee job satisfaction is influenced by intrinsic and extrinsic motivators. Examples of intrinsic motivators include recognition and growth potential. Examples of extrinsic motivators include job security and salary.
- Herzberg’s two-factor theory is driven by employee expectations in the workplace. Businesses should focus on providing satisfactory working conditions and understand how each combination of factors influences job satisfaction.
- Some limitations of Herzberg’s two-factor theory include reliance on subjective survey data and an assumed correlation between satisfaction and productivity.
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