Herzberg’s two factor theory and workplace satisfaction

My interest and inquisitive nature in a deeper understanding of people spurred me into studying psychology for my bachelors, and throughout my studies I have always been curious about motivational psychology and social behaviors. It wasn’t long before this curiosity led me to come across Herzberg’s two factor theory; and as all conventional and modern psychology theories related to motivation goes, it is undeniable that this theory was clearly influenced by Maslow’s hierarchy of needs theory.

And while Maslow’s theory was build on a foundation of 5 levels of needs, Herzberg went on further to add another dimension to these needs and hence giving birth to his two factor theory also known as Herzberg’s Motivation-Hygiene theory.

Among students studying psychology, it seems almost general knowledge that there are always two sets of factors that affecting any individual on any given day. External factors refer to external or things that you do not have control over, such as natural disasters, accidents or in the context of this article such as business climate and economic conditions; while internal factors refers to one’s resilience to different aptitudes among other intrinsic factors.

As mentioned earlier for his theory, Herberg divided the needs into 2 sets of factors:

– Motivators (examples of motivators are challenging work, recognition for personal or individual’s achievement, responsibilities, involvement in decision making, meaningful work and sense of importance and significance to his/her organization) are efforts that contributes to positive satisfaction but are derived directly from the intrinsic conditions and aspects of the job itself, such as acceptance, recognition, achievement, or personal growth, and

– Hygiene factors (examples of hygiene factors are status, job security, salary, fringe benefits, work conditions, good pay, paid insurance, vacations) are factors that do not give positive satisfaction or lead to higher motivation, and their absence will lead to dissatisfaction. Herzberg used the term “hygiene” in the sense that these are maintenance factors. These factors are primarily extrinsic to the work itself, and include aspects such as company policies, supervisory practices, or wages/salary. Interestingly and not without rationale, Herzberg often referred to hygiene factors as “KITA” factors, which is an acronym for “kick in the ass”, the process of providing incentives or threat of punishment to make someone do something.

According to Herzberg, discrepancies in the hygiene factors causes dissatisfaction among employees in a workplace. In order to remove dissatisfaction in a work environment, these hygiene discrepancies must be eliminated. Herzberg mentioned that there are several ways that this can be done but some of the most important/sure-fire ways to decrease dissatisfaction would be to pay reasonable wages, ensuring job security for the employees, and to create a positive culture in the workplace.

Through his studies and stronger empirical support (compared to Maslow’s theory), Herzberg considered the following hygiene factors from highest to lowest importance: company policy, supervision, employee’s relationship with their boss, work conditions, salary, and relationships with peers. Reducing/removing dissatisfaction is only one half of the task of the two factor theory. The other half requires increasing satisfaction in the workplace. This can be done by improving on or increasing motivating factors. Motivation factors carry an imperial importance to motivate an employee to higher performance. Herzberg went on to further elaborate and classified our actions and how and why we do them, for example, if you perform a work related action because you have to then that is classed as “movement”, but if you perform a work related action because you want to then that is classed as “motivation”. In other words, the initiative taken behind an action classifies whether an action is a movement or motivation. Herzberg thought it was important to prioritize eliminating job dissatisfaction (eliminating discrepancies in the hygiene factors) before going onto creating conditions for job satisfaction simply because the efforts behind the two would work against each other.

According to Herzberg’s Two-Factor Theory there are four possible combinations:

  1. High Hygiene + High Motivation: The ideal situation where employees are highly motivated and have few complaints.
  2. High Hygiene + Low Motivation: Employees have few complaints but are not highly motivated. The job is viewed as a form of sustenance or a paycheck.
  3. Low Hygiene + High Motivation: Employees are motivated but have a lot of complaints. A situations where the job is exciting and challenging but salaries and work conditions are not up to par.
  4. Low Hygiene + Low Motivation: This is the worst situation where employees are not motivated and have many complaints.


Herzberg’s theory focuses on the importance of internal job factors as motivating forces for employees. He designed it to increase job enrichment for employees. Herzberg wanted to create the opportunity for employees to take part in planning, performing, and evaluating their work. He suggested a few ways of doing this:

– Removing some of the control management has over employees and increasing the accountability and responsibility they have over their work. This would lead to an increase in employee autonomy.

– Building and creating natural work units where and when it is possible. An example would be allowing employees to create a whole unit or section instead of only allowing them to create part of it.

– Providing regular and continuous feedback on productivity and job performance directly to employees instead of through supervisors.

– Encouraging employees to take on new and challenging tasks and becoming experts at a task.


Although Maslow and Herzberg’s theories have been significant to the humanist and motivational psychology; it has been pointed out repeatedly that there are inadequacies in the need for hierarchy and motivation-hygiene theories. The most common criticism for both of these theories is that it contains relatively explicit assumption that happy and satisfied workers produce more, even though this might not be the case; and that happier workers may not be more productive.

Another alarming criticism is that these and other statistical theories are preoccupied with explaining “average/common” behaviour, despite substantial differences between individuals that may impact one’s motivational factors. For instance, what might be a motivational factor for an individual may not be another’s motivator. An example of this is that in their pursuit of status a person might take a balanced view and strive to pursue several behavioural paths in an effort to achieve a combination of personal status objectives.