Herzberg’s Motivation Theory

The Basic Idea

It is difficult, day in and day out, to be motivated to complete our work. There are so many factors that influence our motivation, whether or not we procrastinate, and if we feel satisfied by the work we are completing.

Herzberg’s Motivation theory recognizes these factors are both internal and external, referred to as motivators and hygiene factors. Motivators include having responsibility, receiving recognition, or being interested in the work – all contribute to satisfaction. Hygiene factors, like work conditions, salary, and company policies, do not cause an employee to be more satisfied, but if they are absent, they will cause an employee to be dissatisfied. One novel component of Herzberg’s motivation theory is that satisfaction is not seen as the opposite of dissatisfaction.1 The two are separate phenomena influenced by different factors. Dissatisfaction is impacted by hygiene factors, while satisfaction is obtained through motivators.

It’s the job of a manager not to light the fire of motivation, but to create an environment to let each person’s personal spark of motivation blaze.

– Frederick Herzberg2


Frederick Herzberg, born in 1923, began his career as an American clinical psychologist. He was particularly interested in mental health and believed that it was “the core issue of our times.” 3 He became committed to improving mental health after visiting Dachau, the longest-operating Nazi concentration camp. When he returned from his visit, he decided to work for the U.S. Public Health service.

With a passion for mental health, Herzberg took an interest in how employee wellbeing and happiness could be improved, as he saw these as keys to unlocking greater productivity. He examined a popular theory of motivation, Maslow’s pyramid, which suggested that basic human needs (like sleep and shelter) must be fulfilled before people can address more complex needs (like finding purpose in life). When it came to the workplace, Herzberg identified the lower levels of the pyramid as basic necessities, such as salary and stable working conditions. Similar to Maslow’s pyramid, he thought these basic ‘hygiene factors’ had to be met; however, he did not think that these contributed to satisfaction, nor did he believe that they had to be met for higher motivators to be present. He did not see motivation on a continuum, but instead, proposed a theory with two independent factors: contributions to satisfaction, and contributions to dissatisfaction.4

Herzberg came up with his own model of motivation, often referred to as Herzberg’s Motivation-Hygiene Theory. He wanted to answer the simple question: “What do people want out of their jobs?” He believed the answer was the root of motivation and tapping into it could boost employee satisfaction. Along with his colleagues, Herzberg interviewed engineers and accountants. He gave them a survey asking which components of their job made them happy or unhappy.4

Herzberg found there was a pattern in the employees’ responses. The components that made them unhappy usually had to do with the working environment – extrinsic influences – and the components that made them happy had to do with the job itself – inherent influences. As a result, Herzberg separated two influences in his motivational theory: hygiene factors and motivators.

Hygiene factors include company policies, supervision, salary, work relationships, work conditions, and job security.1 These components are about the context under which the work is conducted.

Motivators include achievement, recognition, inherent interest in the work itself, responsibility, and opportunity for growth. These components are about the work itself, not the context.1

Hygiene factors are necessary to prevent employees from feeling dissatisfied, although they won’t motivate them further than a base level. Motivators, on the other hand, allow employees to feel satisfied. Motivators and hygiene factors are therefore completely independent influences on overall employee happiness and motivation, and each is concerned with a different set of needs.

Herzberg published his motivation theory in a now-famous 1968 Harvard Business Review article, “One more time: how do you motivate employees?”. In this article, he coined the term ‘job enrichment,’ suggesting managers include motivators for their employees.3 Herzberg is regarded as one of the pioneers of employee wellbeing strategies.5


Herzberg’s theory suggests that simply giving your employees a salary raise will not increase their satisfaction. Subsequently, he came up with the acronym KITA (Kick in the Ass) to show that personnel practices focused on extrinsic motivation do not solve long-term satisfaction issues.3 While an employee’s dissatisfaction levels are temporarily diminished, their satisfaction levels will not rise.

The idea that external rewards diminish intrinsic motivation is supported by the overjustification effect and the theory of crowding out. Both theories describe our tendency to become less motivated to partake in an activity we inherently enjoy after an offer of external motivation, such as money. Similarly, Herzberg’s motivation theory shows us that hygiene factors only result in short-term improvement; although dissatisfaction is reduced, employees quickly become accustomed to their work environment and need inherent motivators.5

All three theories suggest managers should focus on increasing inherent motivation for long-term effect, though basic hygiene should first be met. Managers can increase motivators by emphasizing positive feedback, the value of the the work, and the importance of employee contributions.6 These solutions often cost little-to-nothing, which means money can be reserved for maintaining hygiene factors.

One of the biggest advantages of Herzberg’s motivation theory compared to other theories, including Maslow’s pyramid, is that it is prescriptive rather than descriptive. It addresses specific actions whilst Maslow’s theory describes motivation rather than providing actionable items.4


Although Herzberg’s motivation theory has garnered a lot of support, like any popular theory, it has its fair share of criticisms. Critics point out that when satisfaction is high, people tend to attribute the good fortune to the enjoyable aspects of their job. However, when satisfaction is low, they blame external factors. This suggests a continuum between satisfaction and dissatisfaction. Contrary to Herzberg’s theory, external factors might need to be tackled first – if employees are unsatisfied with external factors, they are unable to feel satisfaction from internal factors.7

Another criticism is that Herzberg’s theory conflates satisfaction and productivity. While it might be true that being more satisfied can make you work harder, Herzberg only investigated satisfaction levels, not work output.7 There is also some controversy whether or not the theory applies to all professions. A 1996 study by Joseph Gawel showed that the theory did not hold up for teachers: schools were losing teachers to higher-paying jobs, which suggested salary acts as a motivator. 8

Another popular management motivation theory is Mclelland’s Need Theory. Developed by psychologist David Mclelland, the theory suggests that there are only three motivators: a need for achievement, a need for affiliation, and a need for power.9 It does not separate context and inherent motivators as starkly as Herzberg’s motivation theory. For example, achievement can include receiving regular feedback, but also a desire to work alone.9 The former would fall under Herzberg’s motivators, whilst the latter would fall under hygiene factors.

Moreover, Herzberg’s motivation theory does not account for cultural differences. Research has shown that whether someone lives in a collectivist or individualist country impacts their motivations. Individualist countries tend to emphasize individual success, which might mean satisfaction is tied to motivators. Collectivist countries, alternatively, are more attentive to the needs of others, which might mean that the work environment is a greater source of satisfaction. Mclelland’s Need Theory, although suggesting that the three motivators are true regardless of culture, does at least take cultural differences into account by stating that one’s culture will impact which of the three takes dominance. 9

Job Satisfaction Amongst Laboratory Professionals

Samira Alrawahi, a researcher in the pathology department at a university hospital in Oman, recognized that job satisfaction was an important condition for staff retention in many healthcare organizations.10 Staff retention is especially important for hospitals in Oman as they often have to recruit expatriates, which means it can be difficult to find replacements. Along with her colleagues, Alrawahi wanted to examine whether the motivational elements identified by medical laboratory professionals would correspond to Herzberg’s motivation theory.

Alrawahi and her team wanted to see if healthcare employees could be satisfied and dissatisfied by different components of their job. She hosted a series of focus group discussions with medical laboratory professionals working in hematology, biochemistry, pathology, and microbiology from three main hospitals in Oman. Respondents were encouraged to express their feelings through open-ended questions posed by a facilitator.10

In agreement with Herzberg’s motivational theory, Alrawahi found that different elements contributed to satisfaction than dissatisfaction for her participants.10 However, the divide did not perfectly correspond to Herzberg’s motivator versus hygiene differentiation. Medical laboratory professionals reported that they felt satisfied by their professional development and their relationships with co-workers and leaders. Health and safety, professional status, workload and salary contributed to their dissatisfaction.10 The dissatisfaction factors correspond to Herzberg’s motivation, which suggest that there may be similar motivators between certain professions.

Tesco’s Success

Tesco, a British grocery store chain, has greatly expanded from its foundation in 1919. Jack Cohen began the business as a market stallholder, but today, Tesco is one of the largest British retailers with over 2,200 stores.11 Tesco partially attributes its success and growth to its motivated, flexible, and well-trained employees. In return, Tesco aims to ensure that their employees feel supported by the company and motivated to work. Tesco has explored multiple motivational theories to tackle their goal, including Herzberg’s motivation theory.

Based on Herzberg’s motivation theory, Tesco identified the components that lead to employee satisfaction (achievement, responsibility, advancement, a sense of challenge and enjoyment).11 As a result, Tesco focused on setting achievable goals for employees and creating an interesting work environment. They also recognize that rewards should go beyond pay increases, which led to the development of Tesco’s Employee Reward Programme. The programme rewards through discounts, gym memberships, and free shares, among other perks. Tesco also helps their employees create a personal development plan for professional and personal growth. The plan focuses on the individuality of each employee and allows staff to take greater interest in their own career journey. Managers also review the employee’s personal development plans with them, which allows for recognition of achievement.11

Related TDL Content

The Science of Reward

Although Herzberg’s motivation theory suggests that monetary incentives do not increase motivation levels, there is a growing body of research which suggests that performance-related pay can in fact improve performance. On the other hand, multiple cognitive biases, like the overjustification effect, prove the opposite. In this article, The Decision Lab tackles all the advantages and disadvantages of monetary rewards.

The Stages of Change: How to Motivate, Facilitate, and Reinforce Desired Behaviors

Finding ways to motivate oneself or one’s employees is not usually a one-size-fits all task. It can be difficult to change someone’s behavior, as we are creatures of habit. In this article, our writer Karine Lacroix examines the three different stages of creating change: motivation, facilitation, and reinforcement. Lacroix suggests that it is important to know which stage of change you are tackling when deciding on the optimal behavior-change strategy, as this will impact its effectiveness.


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  8. Gawel, J. E. (n.d.). Herzberg’s Theory of Motivation and Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Practical Assessment, Research, and Evaluation:, 5(1996). https://doi.org/10.7275/31qy-ea53
  9. McClelland’s Human Motivation Theory. (n.d.). Mind Tools. Retrieved June 3, 2021, from https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/human-motivation-theory.htm
  10. Alrawahi, S., Sellgren, S. F., Altouby, S., Alwahaibi, N., & Brommels, M. (2020). The application of Herzberg’s two-factor theory of motivation to job satisfaction in clinical laboratories in Omani hospitals. Heliyon, 6(9), e04829. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.heliyon.2020.e04829
  11. Motivational theory in practice at Tesco. (2019, September 20). Business Case Studies. Retrieved June 3, 2021, from https://businesscasestudies.co.uk/motivational-theory-in-practice-at-tesco/#axzz4Zid0HLsr

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