Herzberg’s Two-Factor Theory of Motivation-Hygiene

Key Takeaways

  • The two-factor theory (also known as Herzberg’s motivation-hygiene theory) argues that job satisfaction and dissatisfaction exist on two different continua, each with its own set of factors. This runs contrary to the traditional view of job satisfaction, which posits that job satisfaction and dissatisfaction are interdependent.
  • Herzberg and his collaborators investigated fourteen factors relating to job satisfaction in their original study, classifying them as either hygienic or motivational factors. Motivation factors increase job satisfaction while the presence of hygiene factors prevent job dissatisfaction.
  • Although largely replaced by newer theories of motivation in academia, the two-factor motivation theory still continues to influence popular management theory and the methodology of studies in some areas of the world.

What is Two-Factor Theory?

The two-factor motivation theory, otherwise known as Herzberg’s motivation-hygiene theory or dual-factor theory, argues that there are separate sets of mutually exclusive factors in the workplace that either cause job satisfaction or dissatisfaction (Herzberg, 1966; 1982; 1991; Herzberg, Mausner, & Snyderman, 1959).

Generally, these factors encouraging job satisfaction relate to self-growth and self-actualization.

The two-factor motivation theory has since become one of the most commonly used theoretical frameworks in job satisfaction research (Dion, 2006).

To Herzberg, motivators ensured job satisfaction, while a lack of hygiene factors spawned job satisfaction.

Herzberg's Motivation - Hygiene Theory with Icons in an Infographic template

The major mid-twentieth century researchers in motivation — Maslow (1954), Herzberg, Vroom (1964), Alderfer (1972), McCalland (1961), and Locke et al. (1981) — devised research which Basset-Jones and Lloyd argue can be divided into content and process theories of motivation.

Content theories, such as Herzberg et al.’s (1959), assume a complex interaction between internal and external factors, and explore the circumstances under which people respond to different internal and external stimuli.

Meanwhile, process theories, such as that of Vroom (1964), consider how factors internal to the person lead to different behaviors.

Herzberg’s Approach

Frederick Herzberg and his two collaborators, Mausner and Snyderman developed the motivation-hygiene theory in their book, Motivation to Work.

Influenced by Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (Jones, 2011), Herzberg concluded that satisfaction and dissatisfaction could not be measured reliably on the same continuum and conducted a series of studies where he attempted to determine what factors in work environments cause satisfaction or dissatisfaction.

Herzberg and his colleagues explored the impact of fourteen factors on job satisfaction and dissatisfaction in terms of their frequency and duration of impact (Bassett-Jones and Lloyd, 2005).

In the first of these studies, Heizberg asked 13 labourers, clerical workers, foreman, plant engineers and accountants to describe, in detail, situations where they felt exceptionally good or bad about their jobs (Robbins and Judge, 2013).

Generally, respondents, when describing situations where they felt good about their jobs, cited factors intrinsic to their work while those describing situations where they felt bad about their jobs cited extrinsic factors.

Herzberg (1959) considers two types of factors that can add to or detract from job satisfaction: hygiene and motivation factors.

While hygiene factors are related to “the need to avoid unpleasantness,” motivation factors more directly lead to job satisfaction because of “the need of the individual for self-growth and self-actualization.”

The traditional view of job satisfaction entails that job satisfaction and job dissatisfaction exist on the same continuum; employees who lack reasons to be satisfied with their jobs must be dissatisfied (Robbins and Judge, 2013).

However, hygiene and motivational factors are distinct. To Herzberg, the opposite of job satisfaction was not job dissatisfaction, but no job satisfaction. Conversely, the opposite of job dissatisfaction is no job dissatisfaction (Kacel et al., 2005).

These two separate continua of job satisfaction and job satisfaction support the possibility that someone can be content with certain aspects of their jobs but discontent with others.

Perhaps more pessimistically, this also has the implication that simply eliminating “dissatisfiers” would not necessarily lead to job satisfaction so much as placation (motivational concepts).

These so-called “satisfiers” (motivational factors) and “dissatisfiers” (a lack of hygiene factors) are dynamic, constantly interacting, highly subject to change, and relative to the employee (Misener and Cox, 2001).

Certain satisfiers or dissatisfiers may be more important than others in a way that depends on personal and professional contexts.

Whether or not dissatisfiers outweigh satisfiers predict, according to Herzberg, whether employees find their job interesting and enjoyable as well as their likelihood of remaining at their current jobs (Kacel et al., 2005).

herzberg two-factor theory matrix, A matrix showing different categories of job satisfaction

Motivation Factors

Herzberg et. al. (1959) argues that motivation factors are necessary to improve job satisfaction. These motivators, according to Herzberg, are intrinsic to the job and lead to job satisfaction because they satisfy needs for growth and self-actualization (Herzberg, 1966).

In his original paper, Herzberg examines 14 motivational and hygiene factors, of which these are notable examples:

  • Advancement
    Herzberg defined advancement as the upward and positive status or position of someone in a workplace. Meanwhile, a negative or neutral status at work represents negative advancement (Alshmemri et al., 2017, 2017).
  • The work itself
    The content of job tasks in itself can have positive or negative effects on employees. The job’s difficulty and level of engagement can dramatically impact satisfaction or dissatisfaction in the workplace (Alshmemri et al., 2017, 2017).
  • Possibility for growth
    Possibilities for growth exist in the same vein as Maslow’s self actualization; they are opportunities for a person to experience personal growth and promotion in the workplace. Personal growth can result in professional growth, increased opportunities to develop new skills and techniques, and gaining professional knowledge (Alshmemri et al., 2017, 2017).
  • Responsibility
    Responsibility encompasses both the responsibilities held by the individual and the authority granted to the individual in their role. People gain satisfaction from being given the responsibility and authority to make decisions. Conversely, a mismatch between responsibility and level of authority negatively affects job satisfaction (Alshmemri et al., 2017, 2017).
  • Recognition
    When employees receive praise or rewards for reaching goals at their job or for producing high-quality work, they receive recognition. Negative recognition involves criticisms or blame for a poorly-done job (Alshmemri et al., 2017, 2017).
  • Achievement 
    Positive achievement can involve, for example, completing a difficult task on time, solving a job-related problem, or seeing positive results from one’s work. Negative achievement includes failure to make progress at work or poor job-related decision making (Alshmemri et al., 2017, 2017).

Hygiene Factors

Hygiene factors are those which decrease job dissatisfaction. Herzberg, Mausner and Snyderman used the term hygiene in reference to “medical hygiene…[which] operates to remove health hazards from the environment” (1959; Alshmemri et al., 2017).

Herzberg also states that hygiene factors are extrinsic to the job, and function in “the need to avoid unpleasantness” (Herzberg, 1966).

Hygiene factors, rather than relating to the content of the job in itself, tend to relate to contextual factors such as interpersonal relations, salary, company policies and administration, relationship with supervisors and working conditions:

  • Interpersonal relations
    Interpersonal relationships involve the personal and working relationships between an employee and his supervisors, subordinates, and peers. This can manifest in, for example, job-related interactions as well as social discussions in both the work environment and during informal break times.
  • Salary
    Salary includes wage or salary increases, and negatively, unfulfilled expectations of wage or salary increases (Alshmemri et al., 2017).
  • Company policies and administration
    Company policies and administration includes factors such as the extent to which company organization and management policies and guidelines are clear or unclear. For example, a lack of delegation of authority, vague policies and procedures and communication may lead to job dissatisfaction (Alshmemri et al., 2017).
  • Supervision
    Supervision involves an employee’s judgments of the competence or incompetence and fairness or unfairness of the supervisor or supervisions. For example, this could include a supervisor’s willingness to delegate responsibility or to feach, as well as their knowledge of the job at hand. Poor leadership and management can decrease job dissatisfaction (Alshmemri et al., 2017).
  • Working conditions
    Finally, working conditions involve the physical surroundings of the job and whether or not they are good or poor. Factors leading to a good or poor workspace could involve the amount of work, space, ventilation, tools, temperature, and safety (Alshmemri et al., 2017).



Empirical studies of job satisfaction in nurses, such as those of Kacel et al. (2005) and Jones (2011) support Herzberg’s motivation-hygiene theory by asserting that hygiene factors are less important to job satisfaction, while motivational factors lead to job satisfaction (Alshmemri et al., 2017).

In one such study, Kacel et al. (2005) used Herzberg’s theory as a framework for studying job satisfaction among 147 nurse practitioners in the Midwest of the United States qualitatively.

Kacel et al. noticed a Koelbel, Fuller, and Misener (1991) study that suggested that nurses often become nurse practitioners because of dissatisfaction with their staff nursing position, and a desire to use their abilities to their fullest potential — to fulfill what Herzberg would call motivation factors.

In particular, nurses become nurse practitioners, according to Kacel, because of the challenge and autonomy the role provides (2005).

The researchers devised the Misener Nurse Practitioner Job Satisfaction Scale (Misner and Cox, 2001), which is a 44-item questionnaire that focuses on six of Herzberg’s motivational and hygiene factors: collegiality; autonomy professional, social and community interaction; professional growth; time; and benefits and compensation (Kace et al., 2005).

The study attempted to describe which of these factors were the most strongly associated with satisfaction and dissatisfaction and found that salary and administrative policies in particular influence nurses’ job dissatisfaction (Kacel et al., 2005).

Mid-Level Manager Job Satisfaction in India

Although heavily critiqued, Herzberg’s motivation-hygiene theory still greatly influences current methodology, particularly in a number of modern Asian workplace studies (Robbins and Judge, 2013).

Vijayakumar and Saxena (2015) conducted once such study in India.
Attempting to address the controversy over whether monetary compensation is a motivating poor hygiene factor, the researchers used a questionnaire to ask 144 mid-level managers about what factors influenced their job satisfaction most.

Ultimately, the researchers concluded that job satisfaction was actually determined most by job content, organizational context, and rewards and working conditions, with monetary compensation as a separate factor altogether (Vijayakumar and Saxena, 2015).

PLAY Heuristics and Herzberg’s Theory Applied to Video Games

Straat and Warpefelt (2015) attempted to apply Herzberg’s theory to Desurvire and Wiberg’s (2009) PLAY heuristics by attempting to view hygiene factors as those ensuring a functional and enjoyable play experience.

In general, Straat found that video games determined to be of low quality — with a low average rating on a popular review website — tended to have more usability design issues; however, users tended to express more opinions about game aesthetics, narrative or storyline than usability issues in their reviews (Straat and Verhageen, 2014).

The PLAY heuristic, as developed by Desurvire and Wiberg (2009), listed a number of factors in categories such as gameplay, emotional immersion, and usability and game mechanics.

This heuristic includes factors such as “Players feel in control,” “The game goals are clear,” and “there is an emotional connection between the player and the game world,” which parallel Herzberg’s workplace factors.

The researchers then categorized each item in this heuristic as either a hygienic or motivational factor according to participant responses (Straat and Warpefelt, 2015).

Critical Evaluation

The two-factor theory has not been well supported by research. Generally, criticisms of the theory focus on Herzberg’s methodology and assumptions.

Critics have also noted that if hygiene and motivational factors are equally important to a person, then both should be capable of motivating employees (Robbins and Judge, 2013).

Herzberg conducted his formative motivation theory research at a time when organizations tended to be rigid and bureaucratic. As organizations shifted away from focusing on mass-production and toward innovation, new theories of motivation, such as those based in behaviorism, evolved (Bassett-Jones and Lloyd, 2005).

A large number of replication studies emerged following Herzberg’s results. Those using Herzberg’s methodology — the critical incident framework — were consistent with his original results, while research that used methods such as surveys supported the traditional idea that job satisfaction and dissatisfaction exist on the same continuum (Bassett-Jones and Lloyd, 2005).

Soon after Motivation at Work’s publication, Vroom (1964) offered a notable critique of this phenomena: people would naturally be inclined toward protecting their egos when asked to recall good and bad work moments, thus attributing good moments to their personal achievement and capability and bad moments to work (Basset-Jones and Lloyd, 2005).

Thus, in Herzberg’s original qualitative study involving about 200 participants, participants may have been biased when thinking about times in the past where they felt good or bad about their jobs.

Nonetheless, critics struggled to grapple with how Herzberg’s methodology produced results with such consistency. Nonetheless, critics continued to attribute Herzberg’s results to factors such as social desirability bias (Wall, 1973) and personality (Evans and McKee, 1970).


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Saul Mcleod, PhD

BSc (Hons) Psychology, MRes, PhD, University of Manchester

Educator, Researcher

Saul Mcleod, Ph.D., is a qualified psychology teacher with over 18 years experience of working in further and higher education.

Charlotte Nickerson

Research Assistant at Harvard University

Undergraduate at Harvard University

Charlotte Nickerson is a student at Harvard University obsessed with the intersection of mental health, productivity, and design.