Herzberg’s two factor model says that basic factors like safety and salary need to be met to prevent dissatisfaction at work, but that another set of higher order motivating factors like autonomy and recognition are required to create actual happiness at work.

Summary by The World of Work Project


Herzberg’s Two Factor Model of Motivation

Frederick Herzberg’s Two Factor Theory of Motivation is a content model of motivation which says that satisfaction and dissatisfaction in work are created by different factors.

Herzberg uses the phrase “motivating factors” to describe things that, when present, have the ability to make individuals satisfied or even happy at work. He also uses the phrase “hygiene factors” to describe things whose absence has the ability make individuals unsatisfied or unhappy at work.

The core point of Herzberg’s Two Factor Theory of Motivation is that motivating and hygiene factors are very different. Hygiene factors are essential in helping individuals to stop being dissatisfied at work. But crucially, no matter how great these factors are, they alone will never help an individual reach high levels of satisfaction at work. In different language, hygiene factors are a per-requisite for a good employee experience and for good employee engagement.

Motivating factors are almost the opposite. Motivating factors are essential in helping individuals become highly satisfied at work, but their absence will never cause an individual to become extremely unsatisfied at work.

Hygiene factors

Hygiene factors are key in Herzberg's Two Factor Theory of Motivation
You’ve got to get the hygiene right…

Hygiene factors in Herzberg’s model have the power to make people dissatisfied and are prerequisites for satisfaction at work, but their presence alone will never make people satisfied at work.

In other words, the absence of hygiene factors will prevent satisfaction, but the presence of hygiene factors is not in itself enough to lead to high levels of work satisfaction.

Examples of hygiene factors include: salary, safety, security, working environment, working conditions and other things with the power to make an individual unhappy in work.

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Motivating factors

Motivating factors in Herzberg’s model have the power to make moderately satisfied people highly satisfied, but have no impact on satisfaction if hygiene factors aren’t already in place.

Examples of motivating factors include: achievement, recognition, advancement, empowerment, responsibility and intrinsically interesting work.

What this model means for organizations and leaders

Herzberg's Two Factor Theory of Motivation shown as a 2x2 matrix

One key lesson from Herzberg’s Two Factor Theory of Motivation is that organizations and leaders need to get the basics right first. It’s only once they have successfully provided an individual with the basic hygiene factors that the individual will become moderately satisfied. Furthermore, it’s only once their hygiene factors have been met that an individual will start to be motivated by, and achieve higher levels of performance as a result of, motivating factors.

Learning More

If you’re interested in motivation in the world of work, you might find our podcast on Reversal Theory interesting. Reversal Theory explores the relationship between emotions and motivations. You can listen to our podcast on it below:

The World of Work Project View

As with all content models of motivation there are lots of criticisms of this model and the work behind it, not least because it assumes a correlation between satisfaction and performance and because no comprehensive measure of satisfaction was ever used in Herzberg’s work. In addition the universality of the model (the fact that it’s considered to be the same for everyone regardless of their personal circumstances) calls it into question, as does the fact that the work behind it ignored blue-collar workers.

Despite all of these challenges, the model itself is quite intuitive and easy for people to relate to. As a result, its core language and theories have become reasonably popular in the world of work.

In our view, we value the concept of hygiene factors and the fact that the model calls out that money alone is not a motivator. We think this is another useful tool to have as a conversation piece in the world of work, but wouldn’t do much more with it than get conversations started.

Our Podcast

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To learn more about this topic consider starting with Fredrick Herberg’s 1966 publication: “Work and the Nature of Man”.

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