by Paul Matthews

Frederick Herzberg

Frederick Herzberg (1923–2000) proposed his Two Factor Motivator-Hygiene theory in 1959. He did much work on job-enrichment and his 1975 publication, ‘One More Time, How Do You Motivate Workers?’, is one of the most requested articles from the Harvard Business Review.

As a patrol sergeant in the army, he was a first-hand witness of the Dachau concentration camp. He believed that this experience, as well as the talks he had with other Germans living in the area, was what triggered his interest in motivation.

The theory

According to the theory, people are influenced by two types of factors:

  1. Dissatisfaction is a result of hygiene factors
  2. Satisfaction and psychological growth are a result of motivation factors.

Hygiene factors

Typical hygiene factors are

  • Working conditions
  • Quality of supervision
  • Salary
  • Status
  • Security
  • Company
  • Job
  • Company policies and administration
  • Interpersonal relations.

If any of these factors is below a certain level, an employee will become dissatisfied. If their provision exceeds that level, the dissatisfaction will disappear, but providing even more will not lead to motivation.


One apocryphal story about the origin of the name ‘hygiene’ is that one factor could be the cleanliness of the washrooms. If this is below a threshold level, employees will be dissatisfied. Increasing the hygiene and cleanliness of the washrooms over a threshold satisfactory level will not motivate people.

Notice that the threshold for each factor will not be perceived as the same by all employees: one person will demand cleaner washrooms than someone else.

Motivation factors

Typical motivation factors include

  • Achievement
  • Recognition for achievement
  • Responsibility for task
  • Interest in the job
  • Advancement to higher level tasks
  • Growth.

These factors are different to the hygiene factors in that there is no threshold level. The more of these factors that are provided, the higher the resultant motivation. These factors result from internal generators in employees.

How to use the theory

Combining the hygiene and motivation factors results in four scenarios:

  1. High Hygiene + High Motivation: the ideal situation, where employees are highly motivated and have few complaints
  2. High Hygiene + Low Motivation: employees have few complaints, but are not highly motivated; the job is perceived as a pay check
  3. Low Hygiene + High Motivation: employees are motivated but have a lot of complaints; a situation where the job is exciting and challenging, but salaries and work conditions are not up to par.
  4. Low Hygiene + Low Motivation: the worst situation – unmotivated employees with lots of complaints.

The first task you or the company needs to undertake is to ensure that the hygiene factors are over the threshold of acceptability for the majority of the workforce. (Note that there may be some employees who have extremely high levels of expectation, in which case it may not be feasible, economically, to satisfy these people.)

If you try increasing the motivational factors first, they may have little effect in the shadow of hygiene factors which are below threshold.

You can find out if you have succeeded in fixing the hygiene factors by listening to what people complain about. Many of the hygiene factors may be out of your direct control as they tend to be company-wide issues, such as salary, working conditions and company policies.

The good news for managers is that most of the motivational factors are directly within their control, and also cost little or nothing to implement.