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Analysis of Herzberg’s Two-factor Theory

Guided by the question what employees in the information society of the twenty-first century perceive as relevant for their personal motivation in comparison to Herzberg’s two-factor theory this dissertation presents a qualitative study conducted with a group of German knowledge workers. The participants reject Herzberg’s two factor theory as an adequate motivational theory for their workplace motivation. According to the participants view a cultural bias can be found in Herzberg’s theory. Furthermore the underlying assumption of Herzberg’s theory that job satisfaction and dissatisfaction depend on different factors is doubted. Instead it is suggested by the participants the difference needs to be made between motivation and job satisfaction. The theory does not reflect the German cultural tendency towards a team-based approach and the importance of safety needs for motivation. The motivator factors proposed by Herzberg only partially meet the perception of the group of participants. A mentally challenging work, visionary leadership and psychological safety are the key motivators in the researched organisation. Differences in the nature of the job and the cultural environment are suggested as reasons why earlier studies on Herzberg’s theory resulted in ambivalent findings concerning the validity of Herzberg’s theory. Implications of a possible misunderstanding of Herzberg concerning the relationship between job satisfaction, job dissatisfaction and motivation on the two-factor theory and other relevant motivational theories get discussed.

Revaluating Herzberg’s Two-Factor Theory

A 45th Anniversary

Honour where honour is due: in order to last for 45years without being disproved and maintain a place under the most influential of its kind an academic theory has to be a truly outstanding specimen. This is the case for Frederick Herzberg’s two-factor theory of workplace motivation, published in “The Motivation to Work” (Herzberg, Mausner and Snyderman) in 1959. In its essence the theory relates motivation and job satisfaction with a set of work-related factors and job dissatisfaction with a set of factors in the organisational environment.

Since its introduction in 1959 it can be said that the two-factor theory has had considerable influence on the body of science on workplace motivation. Despite existing criticism it can be stated that the two-factory theory fulfils all four criteria of a valuable academic theory (Whitsett and Winslow 1967), it has resolving and explanatory power, has generated a vast amount of further research (Herzberg 1993) and is a useful base for prediction on the topic of workplace motivation. In addition Herzberg (Herzberg, Mausner and Snyderman 1959) introduced a new research method to generate his findings, the so-called “critical incident technique” that caused great sensation and dispute in academic circles at that point in time. In this way Herzberg’s theory has lost nothing of its attractiveness to and influence on academics and manager’s alike over the past decades. In contrary it can still be found on the “manager’s motivational toolbag” for “managing into the new millennium” (Buhler 2003:20) and in modern academic textbooks (Mullins 2002, Rollinson and Broadfield 2002). The same holds true for Herzberg’s original research design, which is still used by current researchers all around the world to conduct studies on workplace motivation (Ruthankoon and Ogunlana 2003, Tamosaitis and Schwenker’s 2002, Timmreck 2001).

What makes Herzberg’s theory such an outstanding specimen amongst the various motivational theories are its underlying thoughts on organisational behaviour in general that draw largely on A.H. Maslow’s (1943) famous hierarchy of needs theory on human behaviour.

His findings in the field of motivation led Herzberg to become one of the trailblazers of the job enrichment movement during the late 1960s and 1970s that is now highly connected to his name and contributed much to Herzberg’s later fame (Clark, Chandler and Barry 1994, Hackman 1975, Reif, Ferrazzi and Evans 1974). With his ideas on job enrichment Herzberg introduced a change that still can be found in our modern job design.

Nevertheless paradigms have changed during the last 45 years. The new millennium has seen the coming of the information society and the knowledge era (Van Beveren 2002). Thus forcing change on the social and organisational environment (Mullins 2002). Writers such as Senge (1990) and Edmonson (1999) stress the importance of organisational learning and new team based approaches to keep pace with changes forced onto organisations by the growing degree of globalisation and the rapidly increasing body of knowledge. Table 0.1 highlights the changes in management during the last centuries.

Table 0.1 Comparing the paradigms

19th century 20th century 21st century
Theory of personhood Interchangeable muscle and energy A subordinate with a hierarchy of needs Autonomous and reflexive individual
Information and Knowledge The province of management alone Management-dominated and shared on a limited basis Widely diffused
The purpose of work Survival Accumulation of wealth and social status Part of strategic life plan
Identification With the firm and/or with the working class Identify with a social group and/or the firm The disenfranchised self
Conflict Disruptive and to be avoided Disruptive but tolerated and can be settled through collective bargaining A normal part of life
Division of labour Managers decide, employees execute Managers decide, employees execute thoughtfully Employees and managers decide and execute
Power Concentrated on the top Limited, functional sharing/ empowerment Diffused and shared

Source: Mullins, Laurie J. (2002)

The radical changes in the organisational environment also made it necessary to develop new methods of analysis. Under the impression of the growing complexity of influences on organisations business research balanced its traditional static methods of quantitative research with the more flexible and dynamic research tools of qualitative research (Bryman and Bell 2003). Thus providing new ways of conducting research and revaluating the results of already existing findings.

This papers presents the results of a qualitative study conducted in a branch of a German software company in order to explore the perception of modern knowledge workers on their own workplace motivation and to compare these perceptions to Herzberg’s two-factor theory. Chapter one summarises Herzberg’s work on motivation and job enrichment as well as Maslow’s hierarchy of needs theory as an important predecessor to Herzberg’s work. Chapter two summarises the criticism on both Herzberg’s and Maslow’s work, provides a brief survey of Hofstede’s cultural framework and presents further literature relevant to the research. Chapter three introduces the company where the research was conducted and the participants. It also contains the methodology and method sections. Chapter four presents the findings of the research, while chapter five contains the discussion. Chapter six finally closes the paper with the conclusions, the limitations of the research and issues for further research.

Chapter 1: Herzberg, Maslow and Human Needs

This chapter highlights Herzberg’s two-factor theory of workplace motivation and his consecutive work on job enrichment as well as A.H. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs theory of motivation. The relations between the two theories are discussed.

1.1 Herzberg’s two-factor theory

It was in fact Herzberg’s psychological background that lead to the insights, which became the basis of his first research published in 1959 his well-known book “The Motivation to Work” (Herzberg 1993, Herzberg, Mausner and Snyderman 1959). During his time working at a public health school Herzberg came to the conclusion that “mental health is not the opposite of mental illness” (Herzberg 1993:xii). The idea that things usually believed to be each others opposite do not need to be diametrically opposed if they are determined by different factors became the foundation of Herzberg’s theory on workplace motivation. Herzberg argued that if job satisfaction was determined by different factors than dissatisfaction with the job, job satisfaction and job dissatisfaction were not precisely each others opposite and had to be treated as different aspects of work (Herzberg, Mausner and Snyderman 1959). In order to prove this hypothesis Herzberg made use of the “critical incident method”.. Herzberg conducted his initial research with a sample of 203 engineers and accountants asking them to describe one situation (critical incident) where they felt good in their job and another situation where they felt bad at work (Herzberg 1993, Rollinson, Broadfield and Edwards 1998). The analysis of the interviews was conducted by a team of researches that had been trained to understand and categorise similar statements by the participants in the same way, so that the experiences described could be grouped under a set of generic terms (Herzberg, Mausner, Boch Snyderman 1959). After this coding procedure the results became quantified, simply by counting how often each generic term had been named in connection to job satisfaction or in connection to job dissatisfaction (Herzberg, Mausner, Boch Snyderman 1959). By this means Herzberg and his team were able to extract two sets of factors from the interviews, one that was repeatedly mentioned in connection to job satisfaction or a good feeling about the job and one that was linked to job dissatisfaction or a bad feeling about the job.

Job satisfaction, according to Herzberg, is mainly a result of the actual work conducted and a series of issues that contributed to the positive perception of the work, such as recognition, achievement, the possibility of growth, advancement and responsibility (Herzberg, Mausner, Boch Snyderman 1959, Tietjen and Myers 1998). Herzberg concluded that these factors not only cause job satisfaction, but to have a positive and lasting influence on motivation, if they are present. Therefore these factors became known as “motivators”. Dissatisfaction on the other hand was caused by factors in the job environment that did not directly contribute to the work itself (Herzberg, Mausner, Boch Snyderman 1959, Mullins 2002). The positive handling of these factors, according to Herzberg, could have only a short-term effect on motivation, while these factors caused severe dissatisfaction with the job, if they were handled badly. Herzberg referred to this factors as “hygiene”.

Herzberg regarded his findings as prove for his initial hypothesis that job satisfaction and dissatisfaction were unrelated matters (Herzberg, Mausner, Boch Snyderman 1959). Hence he regarded the opposite of job satisfaction to be no satisfaction and the opposite of job dissatisfaction to be no satisfaction. Thus the presence of motivator factors would cause satisfaction and motivation and their absence only no satisfaction. The hygiene factors on the other hand would mainly lead to dissatisfaction and would in a positive case only cause a zero state of motivation or satisfaction (Mullins 2002). Motivator and Hygiene factors are contrasted in table 1.1.

Table 1.1 Motivators and Hygiene Factors

Motivators Hygiene Factors
Achievement Company policy and administration
Recognition Technical supervision
Work itself Salary
Responsibility Interpersonal relations – supervision
Advancement Working conditions
Possibility of growth Status
Interpersonal relations – subordinate
Interpersonal relations – peers
Private Life
Job security

Source: Tietjen and Myers 1998

Herzberg (1968, 2003) further elaborated his perception of workplace motivation in his famous article “One More Time: How Do You Motivate Employees” that has become the most reprinted article of the Harvard Business Review of all times (Herzberg 1993). By comparing the two terms motivation and movement, Herzberg rejects the classical carrot and stick approach of management. Herzberg rather follows the notion that financial incentives, a pleasant social environment or the offering of status symbols as well as punishment and disciplining by management may move or drive employees towards the fulfilment of a certain task, but will not make the task itself more interesting or motivating (Herzberg 1968). In his later work Herzberg compared hygiene to heroine, stating that more and more hygiene improvements are necessary to achieve less and less motivation (Dowling 1971). According to Herzberg (1968) only well-designed jobs, challenging tasks and the acknowledging awareness of management and colleagues will fill employees with enthusiasm for their jobs and intrinsically motivate them to carry out their tasks. Management is requested not to push employees towards organisational goals, but to provide sensible and challenging tasks that allow their subordinates to grow while working towards the organisational goals. Goal fulfilment needs to be recognised by management in an appropriate manor. Despite Herzberg’s emphasise on the fact that motivation can only be achieved by the motivators, he stresses that a proper management of the hygiene factors is equally important in order to make work not only a motivating but pleasant experience (Herzberg, Mausner and Snyderman 1959, Mullins 2002).

1.2 Herzberg’s Contribution to Job Enrichment

Herzberg did not restrict his 1968 article to be a mere summary of his earlier work on motivation. Instead he additionally presented a list of what he called “principles of vertical job loading” (Table 1.2) that indicated how jobs needed to be modified in order to show off the motivators of his two-factor theory to their advantage (Herzberg 2003:93).

Table 1.2 Principles of vertical job loading

Principle Motivators involved
A. Removing some controls while retaining accountability Responsibility and personal achievement
B. Increasing the accountability of individuals for own work Responsibility and recognition
C. Giving a person a complete natural unit of work (module, division, area, and so on) Responsibility, achievement, and recognition
D. Granting additional authority to employees in their activity, job freedom Responsibility, achievement, and recognition
E. Making periodic reports directly available to the workers themselves rather than to supervisors Internal recognition
F. Introducing new and more difficult tasks not previously handled Growth and learning
G. Assigning individuals specific or specialised tasks, enabling them to become experts Responsibility, growth, and advancement

Source: Herzberg 2003

Herzberg’s approach to create more a more fulfilling job experience by giving jobs more motivating contents and hence more meaning became known as the job enrichment movement (Hackman 1975, Reif, Ferazzi and Evans 1974). The job enrichment idea was taken up by several other writers, who partially developed rivalling concepts to the one of Herzberg, such as sociotechnical systems, participative management and industrial democracy (Herzberg 1974). Although the theories on job enrichment overlap in certain aspects, it will be sufficient for the purpose of this paper on Herzberg’s motivational theory to focus on Herzberg’s own approach that became known as “orthodox job enrichment”, as this concept is most strongly linked to Herzberg’s motivator-hygiene theory (Herzberg 1974). In his paper “The wise old Turk” Herzberg (1974) presents are more complete approach to job enrichment compared to his principles on vertical job loading mentioned above. Job enrichment, he argues, is based on the relationships between ability, opportunity and performance reinforcement. The more ability an employee possesses to do his or her work, Herzberg points out, the easier this employee can be motivated to do a good job. This principle is of significance for the organisation’s policies on recruitment and selection as well training and development, as a person who is lacking the necessary competence is far more difficult to motivate. Ability on the other hand is of no use, if the job does not offer the opportunity to make full use of one’s own abilities, or as Herzberg (1974:71) puts it “managers cannot motivate a person to do a good job, unless there is a good job to do”. Finally the employee’s readiness to grow with his work needs to be reinforced. Appraisal systems do not only need to appreciate the employee’s growth, they need to reward growth with the potential for further growth and advancement, as “there is no sense in providing training without opportunity, no sense in offering opportunity without training, and no sense in offering both training and opportunity if the reinforcement is solely by hygiene procedures” (Herzberg 1974:71).

Herzberg (1974) continues by presenting eight features a “good” job should include, direct feedback, a client relationship, a learning function, the opportunity for each person to schedule his own work, unique expertise, control over resources, direct communications and personal accountability. Direct feedback can consist of the immediate response of the supervisor to the results of the subordinate or even better the opportunity for the subordinate to independently verify his or her efforts him or herself. The relationship to a specific client gives the employee the opportunity to better understand the needs and problems of his or her customer and participate in their solution. Herzberg (1974) recommends to organise internal supplier-client relationships for back office employees in order to increase their interest in the overall work processes. New learning refers to possibilities for the employee to grow psychologically in order to keep his or her job meaning or purposeful. It further allows the employee to constantly update his or her knowledge in order to maintain the necessary competence in a fast changing economical environment. Scheduling is supposed to grant the employee the freedom of how to structure his or her tasks. While the deadlines are still set by management the employee becomes free to set his or her own pace to keep them. Unique expertise aims at giving each employee a more or less individual field of competence in order to increase his or her identification with the task. Control over resources is meant to allocate the means for a project to the lowest possible level of hierarchy in order to increase the responsibility of the lower ranks. Direct communications authority allows employees to address their colleagues in other parts of the organisation in formal matters directly without having to involve the hierarchy. Thus saving time and improving the social relations within the organisation. Personal accountability finally frees the employee from doing single in itself meaningless tasks and provides responsibility for a coherent set of tasks with which the employee can identify. Although these factors are closer to reality than the principles of vertical job loading in table 1.2 it is still fairly obvious how their implementation can contribute to including the motivators of Herzberg’s two-factor theory mentioned in table 1.1 into the employees’ daily work.

In 1979 Herzberg published an even more refined view on job enrichment, based on a model that highlighted the central importance of the client relationship for orthodox job enrichment. The relationship to a client, according to Herzberg, would improve an employees opportunity to constantly update his knowledge of the customer’s needs and requirements thus enabling to stay in touch with the latest developments, increasing his knowledge and contributing to the employee’s unique expertise. Herzberg’s model of job enrichment is depicted in figure 1.1.

Figure 1.1 Herzberg’s Model of Job Enrichment


Over Resources

Direct Feedback

New learning

Client Relationship

Unique Expertise



Direct Communications Authority

Personal Accountability

Source: Herzberg 1979

1.3 Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Theory

Published in 1943 A.H. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs theory is in fact not only a predecessor of Herzberg’s two-factor theory, but its basis as it will be pointed out later (Mullins 2002, Rollinson and Broadfield 2002). Maslow (1943) suggests that motivation is a result of five different sets of human needs and desires, namely physiological, safety, love, esteem and self-actualisation needs (Mullins 2002, Rollinson and Broadfield 2002, Clark, Chandler and Barry 1998). Physiological needs refer to the most essential issues of human survival such as food and drink, air to breath, sleep, reproduction and so on. Safety needs include physical safety, but also the human desire for predictability and orderliness. Love needs consist of all sorts of social affiliation and their advantages. Esteem needs include self-esteem and the confidence in one’s own abilities as well as the recognition and admiration by others. Self-actualisation needs finally refer to the ultimate experience of self-fulfilment and the idea of becoming the person one always wanted to be. Although Maslow (1943) only wrote about a hierarchy, his levels of needs usually are pictured as a pyramid (Figure 1.2).

Figure 1.2 Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs







Source: Mullins 2002

People, according to Maslow (1943), process through these levels of needs in a hierarchical order, as one level of needs gets satisfied it loses its motivating effect making the individual long for the satisfaction of the next set of needs. Without at least a certain degree of satisfaction in one level of needs, however, people will not be interested in the satisfaction of the higher levels and hence no motivation will be triggered by those higher needs. Maslow (1943) gives the example of the starving person that cannot be motivated by any other means than food. If this person had enough to eat, food will cease to be a motivator and – given the fact that physiological needs in general are perceived satisfying – the person’s motivation will turn to the realisation of the next higher set of needs.

Maslow (1943) himself pointed out the hierarchical order in which he arranged the needs was not a strict one. Instead several issues can have an influence on this order. First of all a set of needs does not need to be entirely satisfied in order to allow the individual to proceed to the next level, already a certain degree of satisfaction can be enough for the individual to aim for another set of needs. In this case, however, the unsatisfied parts of the earlier level will remain motivators. Additionally the structure of the hierarchy may vary according to personalities. Some people may have a stronger interest in esteem than in love and therefore want to satisfy the esteem needs earlier. Psychotic persons may have no interest in specific satisfaction of certain levels of needs such as love at all, while highly idealistic persons may sacrifice everything in pursuit of just one single need. Another group of persons may be satisfied with settling in one level of the hierarchy without being interested in satisfying any higher levels. Furthermore it has to be kept in mind that definitely most actions taken by individuals serve more than just one set of needs. A dinner with friends in a luxurious restaurant for example will not only satisfy physiological needs but may also satisfy aspects of love and esteem.

Although Maslow’s theory initially was not meant to be applied to the work context it soon became influential in the analysis of workplace motivation as well (Mullins 2002, Rollinson and Broadfield 2002). Steers and Porter for example elaborated real-life incentives within the work environment that could be used to serve all of the employees’ needs as shown in table 1.3. Alderfer further extended Maslow’s thoughts in his ERG theory (Mullins 2002, Rollinson and Broadfield 2002).

Table 1.3 Application of Maslow’s Theory to the Work Context

Needs levels General rewards Organisational factors
1. Physiological Food, water, sex, sleep a Pay

b Pleasant working conditions

c Cafeteria

2. Safety Safety, security, stability, protection a Safe working conditions

b Company benefits

c Job security

3. Social Love, affection, belongingness a Cohesive work group

b Friendly supervision

c Pro

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