Two-factor motivation theory (Herzberg)


This essay reviews scholarly literature on the two-factor motivation theory (Herzberg). The review will analyze a total of 10 articles including books on the theory and different peer reviewed journal articles that examine the theory and its applicability in the current work environment. Various topics will be reviewed in this essay including the definition of motivation, the overview of the Herzberg two-factor motivation theory, researchers that support Herzberg’s two-factor motivation theory, and criticism on Herzberg’s two-factor motivation theory. The essay will conclude with analysis of the findings of the different studies reviewed and their implications.  

Literature Review

The two factor motivation theory (Herzberg) was developed in the 1960s by Herzberg and his colleagues. During a study, Herzberg and his colleagues set out to assess employee motivation and satisfaction at the work place and found two set of factors that influence employee motivation and satisfaction. From the study, Herzberg came up with the two-factor motivation theory. The motivation theory is still used today and many scholars have conducted studies regarding the use Herzberg theory of motivation in the work environment. This literature review focuses on the different studies done to test and criticize the two-factor motivation theory in regards to employee motivation and satisfaction. The literature review will start by defining motivation and employee satisfaction and then proceed with the overview of the Herzberg two factor theory of motivation. Also reviewed in this literature review are past studies that support the theory and those that criticize the theory. 

Definition of Motivation 

The term motivation comes from a Latin word that means to stimulate. Motivation is a concept that has been studied for many years with different researchers and theorists coming up with their own definitions of motivation. The concept has been mentioned by various Greek scholars such as Plato, Socrates and Aristotle who identified body senses and desires for the justification of actions and activities. The Oxford dictionary defines motivation as the reason that influence people to behave or act in a certain way (Oxford, 2018). Motivation could also refer to the reasons or attributes that moves or compels a person to do something in order to satisfy certain needs (Kian, Yusoff & Rajah, 2014). 

In the work setting, motivation can be defined as the persistence and willingness to increase effort to attain individual or organizational goals and is driven by the desire to satisfy certain needs (Razah, Akhtar, Husnain & Akhtar, 2015). From these definitions, three key elements can be identified: effort, organizational goals or objectives, and need. All these definitions have similar meanings in terms of people having a desire to attain or get a certain thing and this is what influences their actions. Motivation is not the behavior, rather, it is what influences or drives behavior. Various assumptions emerge from these definitions; that a person can perform a task if he or she is willing or able to do so, and that to attain a high level of performance the person should be very willing or eager to perform that task. 

Overview of the Herzberg two-factor motivation theory 

The history of the two factor motivation theory dates back to 1959, when Herzberg and other researchers published a book, The Motivation to Work, whereby the researchers explained different factors that influence employee motivation. Some of the factors mentioned in the book included the need for achievement, increased work responsibilities, the need for recognition of accomplishment, challenging work, and opportunities for growth (Herzberg, Mausner & Snyderman, 1959). 

Later, in 1966, Herzberg went on to develop the two factor motivation theory based on a research conducted on different employees. In that study, Herzberg and his colleagues collected survey feedback from more than two hundred accountants and engineers working in different environments. The researchers focused on investigating the following: factors that motivated the employees or gave them the incentive to work, and factors that discouraged job dissatisfaction. The feedback consisted of personal feelings of the employees towards the work environment and Herzberg came up with two sets of factors while explaining employee working attitudes: motivation and hygiene factors (Herzberg, 1966).

Motivation factors were those that encouraged the employees to continue working and also contributed to job satisfaction. The same factors were said to further increase the efficiency and productivity of the employees. In contrast, the hygiene factors were those that prevented job dissatisfaction but did not make the employees happy either. Herzberg found out that these factors only eliminated the unhappiness factor and if these hygiene factors were not met in the organizational setting, they reduced employee efficiency and productivity (Herzberg, 1966). 

Further, Herzberg and his colleagues suggested that job satisfaction and dissatisfaction were two different concepts, each influenced by a different set of factors. The researchers named these factors intrinsic and extrinsic factors. Intrinsic factors referred to the factors related to nature of performing work duties and they included the work itself, work responsibilities, achievement and recognition. According to Herzberg, these factors meet the psychological needs of employees hence leading to content and happiness. When these factors are not made available to the employee, the employee cannot find any satisfaction in the job. However, when these factors are present, employees are likely to report high satisfaction and report that they enjoy their job (Herzberg, 1966).

In contrast, extrinsic factors included factors beyond the work content but related to the organizational or job context. These factors included company policy, salary and benefits, interpersonal relationships, and working conditions. According to Herzberg, the absence of these extrinsic factors among the study population led to increased job dissatisfaction. Also known as hygiene factors, the extrinsic factors help in meeting the physical need of employees by giving them comfort while performing their duties. With this study, Herzberg concluded by mentioning that dissatisfaction is not the opposite of satisfaction and that no satisfaction is the actual opposite of satisfaction.

The combination of the motivation and hygiene factors could lead to different scenarios including:

  • High motivation and high hygiene lead to high employee motivation with minimal or no complains
  • High motivation and low hygiene lead to high employee motivation that is accompanied by a lot of complains
  • Low motivation and high hygiene lead to poorly motivated employees who have very few complains
  • Low motivation and low hygiene is the worst scenario as it leads to a highly demotivated workforce with numerous complains (Herzberg, 1987).

Herzberg went further to develop the two factor motivation theory by suggesting ways in which managers could create work conditions that encourage job satisfaction (1987). Consequently, he identified several work-related motivating factors that are also known as job enrichment factors. To make these factors apply in different work setting, the theorist suggested that every work should be examined to find ways in which it could be made more satisfying. These job enrichment factors include the following:

  • Giving employees opportunities for achievement,
  • Recognize the efforts and contributions of each worker,
  • Creating a rewarding work environment whereby employees are allowed to adequately use their skills and abilities,
  • Give each team enough responsibilities,
  • Provide opportunities whereby employees can benefit from internal promotions, and
  • Offer opportunities for training and career development so that employees have a chance to grow in their careers (Herzberg, 1987).

In the same publication, Herzberg recommended different ways in which employers and managers could eliminate job dissatisfaction. These include:

  • Fixing company policies that obstruct employee ability to perform duties and grow,
  • Supervise employees in ways that are non-intrusive, supportive and still effective,
  • Create a culture of respect and dignity,
  • Offer competitive salaries and wages,
  • Ensure job security, and
  • Ensure that there is a job status for every position by giving meaningful work tasks (Herzberg, 1987).

By providing these recommendations, Herzberg suggested that employees can never be motivated unless these issues are addressed at the organizational level. While Herzberg’s two-factor theory has been largely accepted and used by different researchers, several researchers continue to criticize this theory and its applications. 

Researchers that support Herzberg’s two-factor motivation theory

In a study involving the importance of both intrinsic and extrinsic factors in influencing employee job satisfaction, Wang, Lu and Sun found out that both set of factors have a positive impact on the performance of managers even though the intrinsic factors play a more important role (2018). In the study, Wang, Lu and Sun investigated the impact of extrinsic and intrinsic incentives on the performance of middle level and low level managers through the use of questionnaires. 

After the study was completed, the researchers found out that extrinsic incentives such as salary and welfare improved the level of satisfaction among managers and also improved the manager’s commitment to their organizations. In contrast, intrinsic incentives such as the sense of achievement and the need for promotion and recognition hugely impacted the satisfaction levels of the managers by increasing their sense of belonging and achievement.  The study also found out that opportunities for growth and promotion positively impacted the work attitudes of the managers. These findings support Herzberg’s theory and its application in today’s working environment. However, this study was limited by several factors including the measurement tool and the self-reporting nature of the survey instrument used (Wang, Lu & Sun, 2018).

Another research that confirms the applicability of Herzberg’s two-factor theory in today’s work environment is the research by Damij, Levnajic, Skrt and Suklan (2015). These researchers conducted a qualitative study involving the use of questionnaires to assess the factors that govern job satisfaction among employees in Slovenia. According to Damij et al. (2015), the research done on motivating factors among employees in Slovenia shows that employees are driven by various factors and their combinations that are in no way related to personal or work related factors in the workplace. 

According to the researchers, the two-factor theory is somehow applicable in today’s work environment as what motivates employees includes some of the factors suggested by Herzberg (Damij, et al., 2015). Accordingly, the scholars found put that employees are motivated by optimal working conditions in terms of good working relationships with colleagues and supervisors, opportunities for growth. However, the same study found out the factors that motivate employees are not grouped into extrinsic and intrinsic factors but they all influence the job satisfaction and dissatisfaction in one way or another. The researchers did not, however, investigate the differences between the motivating and inhibiting factors in the study.

Another research that supports the Herzberg theory and its assumptions and its applicability in the work environment is the research by Rahman, Akhter and Khan (2017). In the study, the researchers found that a high job satisfaction led to increased efficiency, productivity, effectiveness, and profitability. Further, the researchers found out that increased job satisfaction contributed to a more positive working environment in terms of improved organizational culture, improved worker retention, and making an organization a great place to work (Rahman, Akhter & Khan, 2017). Both hygiene factors were found to contribute to the job satisfaction level of employees in the study. The study also found out differences in the way in which the motivators and hygiene factors influenced satisfaction levels. For instance, the study in one of companies featured in the research revealed that while hygiene factors had a positive impact on job satisfaction, motivator factors had a negative impact on job satisfaction. This goes against the findings of Herzberg that motivator factors influenced job satisfaction while hygiene factors influenced job dissatisfaction. Nonetheless, the findings of the study provided broader categories of the motivator and hygiene factors as proposed by Herzberg and their impact on employee satisfaction (Rahman, Akhter & Khan, 2017). 

Another study that has demonstrated the relevance of Herzberg’s two factor model in motivating employees by improving their level of satisfaction is the study by Razar, Akhtar, Husnain and Akhtar (2015). The research involved an empirical study to investigate the impact of several intrinsic factors such as achievement, job security, the work itself and job responsibility on job satisfaction. The researchers found out that the four intrinsic motivation factors were positively related to job satisfaction, and that employees who had job security and opportunities for achievement were more satisfied and tended to be more creative. This creativity, according to the researchers is critical in helping an organization attain competitive advantage. However, this research was limited by the scope of the study in that the researchers only investigated the impact of intrinsic factors and left out the role of extrinsic factors in influencing employee motivation. Nevertheless, the findings of this study were critical in supporting the assumptions suggested by Herzberg in the two-factor motivation theory development (Razar, Akhtar, Husnain & Akhtar, 2015).

A study by Kian, Yusoff and Rajah also found that motivation and job satisfaction are closely related and that organizational factors that employees are exposed to could lead to job satisfaction. (2014). In this research, the scholars reviewed the impact of various motivation factors on job satisfaction by reviewing various motivation theories.  Kian, Yusoff and Rajah also found out that both internal and job factors had a relationship with job satisfaction (2014). However, this study was limited by the fact that no actual research was conducted to assess the applicability of the Herzberg two factor motivation theory in the current work environment. 

Criticism on Herzberg’s two-factor motivation theory

In another study that assessed the relevance of the two factor model in motivating employees while considering the cultural impact, Matei and Abrudan (2016) reported that the two factor model is not applicable to the working environment in Romania. This study involved testing the validity of Herzberg’s two factor theory in the working environment in Romania by analyzing secondary data, conducting a focus-group qualitative research and a survey-based quantitative research. According to the researchers, Herzberg’s theory failed to consider the role of cultural factors in today’s working environment and this undermines the relevance of the theory. 

In the study, the researchers found out that indeed, some of the motivator factors and hygiene factors influenced employee satisfaction levels. However, some factors that Herzberg considered to be motivators were found to be hygiene factors by Matei and Abrudan (2016). For instance, while Herzberg considered salary to be a motivating factor, the study found salary to have an influence on both the satisfaction and dissatisfaction levels among employees hence it is both a motivating and hygiene factors. In addition, Matei and Abrudan found out that the intrinsic factors (motivator factors) such as the nature of work, opportunity to grow and responsibility were important to workers in Romania but not the most important as Herzberg suggested (2015). Rather, some hygiene factors such as relations with peers and job security are considered to be more important for employees in Romania. By incorporating the cultural concept, this study was critical in analyzing the validity of the two-factor model in the work environment in Romania.

Another criticism on the Herzberg two-factor motivation theory and its relevance in the current work environment is how the importance of intrinsic and extrinsic factors differs across different generations of employees. In another study, Yusoff and Kina conducted a quantitative study whereby questionnaires were administered to find out the factors that motivate employees of different generations (2013). According to Yusoff and Kian (2013), the study on how the extrinsic and intrinsic factors influence different generations of employees found significant differences in the level of the factors and their impact on job satisfaction across different generations. 

For instance, the study found out that among Generation X, the work itself, the need for achievement, the need for recognition and promotion were some of the most important intrinsic factors while for Generation Y, the most relevant intrinsic factors of motivation included promotion, and the need for recognition and achievement. In terms of extrinsic factors, Generation X appears to be influenced by work conditions, and company policy and administration, while for Generation Y, the extrinsic factors that matter most appeared to be work conditions, company policy and administration, and employee pay and benefits. While these findings support the Herzberg theory that employees are motivated by both intrinsic and extrinsic factors, the factors appear to have different satisfaction impact on Generation X and Y. However, this study was limited a small population sample but the findings were still relevant in the development of Herzberg two-factor motivation theory.


In conclusion, the review of past literature regarding the development and use of Herzberg two-factor theory of motivation implies that the theory is widely used across different industries. The review of Herzberg’s work reveals that employees are motivated by intrinsic factors that are also known as motivator factors and extrinsic factors also known as hygiene factors. The set of factors influence employees in different ways even in today’s work environment as the review of past research has revealed. For instance, those in support of the theory have demonstrated the relevance of the two factor models in increasing employee satisfaction and productivity (Wang, Lu & Sun, 2018; Rahman, Akhter & Khan, 2017; Damij, Levnajic, Skrt & Suklan, 2015; Razar, Akhtar, Husnain & Akhtar, 2015).  

However, critics of the theory have suggested that while both extrinsic and intrinsic factors influence employee satisfaction, the theory does not take into consideration the cultural context  in the work environment (Matei & Abrudan, 2016) and the different preferences of different generation of workers (Yusoff & Kian, 2013). Some of these studies find the tow-factor motivation model very practical among today’s employees (Wang, Lu & Sun, 2018), while others found the theory a little less impractical in today’s working environment (Matei & Abruda, 2018).


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