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Herzberg's Theory - Still Relevant Today

February 8, 2023

Herzberg's theory known as the two factor theory was first published in 1959 in his book The Motivation to Work.

There have been critics over the years who point to conceptual and methodological weaknesses in the theory but no one can deny its enduring influence on management practices. In our work on employee engagement and well being we find the model relevant and helpful in understanding and framing our clients' survey results.

Frederick Herzberg, born in Massachusetts in 1923, carried out his research by interviewing 203 employees, engineers and accountants in the town of Pittsburgh.  

The theory is about trying to understand employees’ attitudes towards their jobs and what impact they have on their motivation.  

The model has two distinct groups of factors that Herzberg argues are appraised on two psychological dimensions – no satisfaction - satisfaction and no dissatisfaction - dissatisfaction.

Hygiene factors

The first are what Herzberg called hygiene factors which focus on “the characteristics of the context in which the job is done”.  His research found that they are more likely to be “dissatisfiers” - unmet expectations on these factors lead to dissatisfaction while met expectations lead to an absence of dissatisfaction.

Hygiene factors include company policy and administration, manager relationship, working conditions, salary, and job security.  

From the employees’ perspective they are expected and form a baseline similar to basic needs in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs model.  Unmet expectations can lead to lower productivity, withdrawal or “quiet quitting”, increased turnover intentions and actual turnover.

Motivator factors

Secondly, we come to motivator factors and whilst these have always been important it is fair to say that employee expectations have evolved and increased since the time of Herzberg’s research.

According to Herzberg’s findings motivator factors are more likely to be “satisfiers” – their presence will lead to positive attitudes because they meet a need for self-actualisation - the desire to fulfil one’s potential as described in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs model.

Motivator factors include achievement, recognition, meaningful work, opportunities for growth, empowerment.  When these factors are missing there follows an absence of satisfaction which entails low levels of employee engagement.

Herzberg today

In today’s environment recruitment and retention are challenges for many organisations.  Considering both groups of factors is important.

Replacing a leaver is expensive and the costs go beyond those shown in an Excel spreadsheet – induction and training costs, loss of institutional knowledge, disruption of team dynamics.  

Attracting talent requires more than offering the basic hygiene factors.  Showing your organisation can fulfil expectations of motivators will help your recruitment efforts.

Furthermore every organisation should be thinking about how to get the best from their employees, to maximise their potential and create advocates for the business.

Employee surveys crafted to help you understand how your staff feel in your business through the lens of Herzberg’s theory can help you understand where to invest for maximum impact.  

At Employee Feedback we can not only help you understand the issues and what is valued by your people, we can also help you build the strategy that increases engagement, transforms company culture and supports retention.  

We believe that everyone should be enabled to achieve their potential and it makes sense to help your staff for the benefit of your business.  

Unlock people power in your organisation with Employee Feedback

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