Frederick Herzberg

The Hygiene Motivation Theory Thinker

Your use of this content is subject to the terms and conditions of this portal

Frederick Herzberg: The hygiene motivation theory thinker
Image used with permission from Case Western University Archives, 2010

Frederick Herzberg (1923 - 2000) was a US clinical psychologist who later became Professor of Management at the University of Utah. His 'overriding interest in mental health' stemmed from his belief that 'mental health is the core issue of our times.' This was prompted by his posting to the Dachau concentration camp after its liberation. On his return to America, he worked for the US Public Health Service.

He is best know for his hygiene-motivation theory, which was first published in The motivation to work in 1959. Herzberg's work focused on the individual in the workplace, but it has been popular with managers as it also emphasised the importance of management knowledge and expertise.


Key theories

The 'hygiene-motivation' or 'two factor' theory resulted from research with two hundred Pittsburgh engineers and accountants. Herzberg aimed to dissect employee's attitudes to their jobs, to discover what prompted these attitudes, and what impact they had on the person and their motivation to work. Subjects were asked what pleased and displeased them about their jobs. From their responses, Herzberg concluded that man has two sets of needs:

  • Lower level needs as an animal to avoid pain and deprivation
  • Higher level needs as a human being to grow psychologically.

Some factors in the workplace meet the first set of needs but not the second and vice versa. The first group of factors he called 'hygiene factors' and the second, 'motivators'.

Herzberg also coined the term 'job enrichment', a technique which grew out of the hygiene-motivation theory. Job enrichment involved including motivators in the design of jobs. In his famous Harvard Business Review article, One more time: how do you motivate employees? originally published in 1968, Herzberg also invented the acronym KITA (Kick In The Ass) to explain personnel practices such as wage increases, fringe benefits and job participation which were developed as attempts to instil motivation but are only short-term solutions.

The hygiene-motivation theory

KITA was used by Herzberg to explain why managers don't motivate employees. He demonstrated that employees are not motivated by being kicked (figuratively speaking), or by being given more money or benefits, a comfortable environment or reducing time spent at work. These elements were called 'hygiene factors' by Herzberg because they concern the context or environment in which a person works.

Hygiene factors also include:

  • pompany policy and administration
  • supervision
  • working relationships, and
  • status and security.

These factors do not in themselves promote job satisfaction, but serve primarily to prevent job dissatisfaction, just as good hygiene does not in itself produce good health, but lack of it will cause disease. Herzberg also speaks of them as dissatisfiers or maintenance factors, since it is their absence or inadequacy which causes dissatisfaction at work. Some factors are not true motivators as they need constant reinforcement. In these cases, intrinsic motivation still lies only with the manager, while the employee is merely being compelled to act to avoid punishment or gain reward. Additionally, the rewards increasingly come to be regarded as rights to be expected, rather than incentives to greater satisfaction and achievement.

'Motivators' (also referred to as growth factors) relate to what a person does at work, rather than to the context in which it is done. They include:

  • achievement
  • recognition
  • the work itself
  • responsibility
  • advancement and growth.

Herzberg explains that the two sets of factors are separate and distinct because they are concerned with two different sets of needs. They are not opposites. The theory proposes that most factors which contribute to job satisfaction are motivators (achievement, recognition, the satisfaction of the work itself, responsibility and opportunities for advancement and growth) and most factors which contribute to job dissatisfaction are hygiene elements (company policy, general management, the individual relationship with their manager and working conditions).

Herzberg's hygiene-motivation theory is derived from the outcomes of several investigations into job satisfaction and job dissatisfaction, studies which replicated his original research in Pittsburgh. Most of the evidence on which Herzberg based his theory is relatively clear-cut. This is particularly the case with regard to achievement and promotion prospects as potential job satisfiers and with regard to supervision and job insecurity as factors which contribute principally to dissatisfaction.

The element which continues to cause some debate is salary/pay, which seems to have elements of both. Herzberg's evidence was not so clear here, although he placed salary with the disatissfiers. This would seem the most appropriate classification; although pay may have some short-term motivational value, it is difficult to conceive of it as a long-term motivator in the same manner as responsibility and achievement. Most experience (and the history of industrial relations) would point to pay as a dissatisfier and therefore a hygiene factor along with supervision, status, and security.

Herzberg used biblical allusions to illustrate his theory. He depicted man's basic needs as two parallel arrows pointing in opposite directions. One arrow shows man's Animal-Adam nature, concerned with the need to avoid physical deprivation (the hygiene factors), the other his Human-Abraham nature, needing to realise the potential for perfection (the motivation factors).

Job enrichment was an extension of Herzberg's hygiene-motivation theory. He saw it as a continuous management function which involved embracing motivators in job design. These included:

  • self-scheduling
  • control of resources
  • accountability, and
  • undertaking specialised tasks to become expert in them.

In perspective

Herzberg's ideas have proved very durable. A late 1990s article, for example, draws on his classic 1968 Harvard Business Review article, and adapts his 'hygiene' and 'satisfier' factors to apply them to customer satisfaction (Naumann and Jackson, 1999). His work can be seen - in common with that of Elton Mayo (known for the Hawthorne Experiments), of Abraham Maslow (developer of the hierarchy of needs) and of Douglas McGregor (creator of Theory X and Theory Y) - as a reaction to F W Taylor's Scientific Management theories. These last focused on techniques which could be used to maximise the productivity of manual workers and on the separation of mental and physical work between management and workers. In contrast, Herzberg and his contemporaries believed that workers wanted the opportunity to feel part of a team and to grow and develop.

Although Herzberg's theory is not highly regarded by psychologists today, managers have found in it useful guidelines for action. Its basic tenets are easy to understand and can be applied to all types of organisation. Furthermore, it appears to support the position and influence of management. It has been noted that links between motivation and productivity are beyond the scope of Herzberg’s work, and the usefulness of motivating factors from the perspective of management may depend upon proving this relationship, as other authors have tried to do.

The theory's impact has been seen on reward systems, firstly in a move away from payment-by-results systems and today in the growing proportion of cafeteria benefits schemes, which allow individual employees to choose the fringe benefits which best suit them.

Job enrichment was more theorised about than put into practice. Many schemes which were tried resulted only in cosmetic changes or led to demands for increased worker control and were therefore terminated. Nowadays the concept is more one of people enrichment, although this still owes much to Herzberg's original work. His greatest contribution has been the knowledge that motivation comes from within the individual; it cannot be imposed by an organisation according to some formula. Many of today's trends - career management, self-managed learning, and empowerment - have a basis in Herzberg's insights.

Further reading

Key works by Frederick Herzberg


Work and the nature of man. London, Staples Press, 1968

The managerial choice: to be efficient and to be human. Homewood, Ill., Dow Jones-Irwin, 1976

With Mausner, B. & Snyderman, B. The motivation to work. 2nd ed. New York, John Wiley, 1959

Journal articles

One more time: how do you motivate employees? Harvard Business Review. 81 (1), Jan-Feb 2003, pp.87-96
(Originally published in Harvard Business Review. 46 (1), Jan-Feb 1968, pp.53-62)

This article was republished in 1987 (Harvard Business Review, 65 ( 5) Sep-Oct 1987, pp.109-120) with a retrospective commentary by the author. By that time, the article had sold over one million reprints, making it the most requested article in the Harvard Business Review's history.


Key works by others


Adair, J. Leadership and motivation: the fifty fifty rule and the eight key principles of motivating others. London, Kogan Page, 2009

Forsyth, P. How to motivate people. 2nd ed. London, Kogan Page, 2010

Journal articles

Naumann, E. and Jackson, D. One more time - how do you satisfy customers? Business Horizons, 42 (3) May-Jun 1999, pp.71-76

Cameron, D., Herzberg - still a key to understanding motivation. Training Officer, 32 (6) Jul-Aug 1996, pp.184-186

Sledge, S., Miles, A. and Coppage, S. What role does culture play a look at motivation and job satisfaction among hotel workers in Brazil. International Journal of Human Resource Management, 19 (9) September 2008, pp.1667-1682.

Related collection items

Motivation matters

This report builds on earlier findings to provide a more complete picture of some of the issues that affect managers’ motivation,…

Great expectations: understanding the motivation of young workers

The labour market for young workers has changed beyond all recognition reveals this report. With a shrinking but more highly…

The quality of working life 2012: managers' wellbeing, motivation and productivity

This is the seventh in a series of Chartered Management Institute research reports looking at the quality of managers’ working…

Related people

Elton Mayo

Professor George Elton Mayo (1880-1949) has secured fame as the leader in a series of experiments known as the Hawthorne…

Frederick Winslow Taylor

F W Taylor was an author and management thinker whose book The Principles of Scientific Management, published in 1911, has…

John Adair

Adair's ideas remain popular because they are practical and relevant to managers irrespective of working environment, and…

Chris Argyris

Chris Argyris is an academic and author famous for his theory of single and double-loop learning and his work on learning…