Theoretical Spotlight: Herzberg’s Two-Factor Theory of Motivation

Literature Review

The theoretical framework section of the dissertation can be an area of struggle for many students. As such, in this blog series, we highlight the most popular theories we come across in our work with dissertation students. Just be aware that these are merely theory overviews and are in no way all encompassing. These overviews are designed to give you some familiarity with major theories.

Theory: Herzberg’s (1964) two-factor theory of motivation

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Herzberg’s two-factor theory of motivation—also referred to as motivation-hygiene theory—contends that job satisfaction is contingent upon a variety of factors that give meaning to the nature of one’s work. Herzberg asserted that while job satisfaction was the presence of these factors, job dissatisfaction was not the absence of these factors; rather, dissatisfaction was linked to negative assessments of the job-contingent factors.

According to Herzberg, the two-factor theory consists of motivators and hygiene factors. Motivators consist of meaningful, challenging work, talent recognition, increased responsibility, employee input in the decision-making process, feelings of importance, achievement, and growth. Meanwhile, hygiene factors consist of job security, pay and benefits, and workplace conditions. While hygiene factors on their own do not result in higher levels of satisfaction or motivation, they do lead to job dissatisfaction when they are not present. Herzberg posited that the combination of these two factors lead to increased job satisfaction and motivation within the workplace; when either factor is in jeopardy, then employees’ dissatisfaction grows, and motivation dwindles. Herzberg theorized that in order to effectively eliminate dissatisfaction, organizational leaders should ensure that the hygiene factors are met. 

This theory is best suited for studies on:

  • Job satisfaction
  • Job retention
  • Management

Further reading:

Herzberg, F. (1964). The motivation-hygiene concept and problems of manpower. Personnel Administrator, 27(1): 3–7.