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Empowerment Through Knowledge
No.13: Motivator-Hygiene Theory

If you’ve previously thought of job satisfaction and job dissatisfaction as opposites, then Frederick Herzberg’s motivator-hygiene theory may shed some light on why this is not necessarily the case. Simply removing factors that cause dissatisfaction in the workplace is not the answer to creating employee satisfaction.

This theory, also known as two-factory theory, originated from Herzberg’s research on behavior and was proposed in 1959. Although the theory can be labelled as simplistic, its principles provide the basis for other motivation theories, and it provides a good basis for a basic understanding of factors that impact employee satisfaction and dissatisfaction for the better or for worse. It is important to keep in mind a few limitations of this theory. For one, it is based on white-collar workers (ex: employees working in offices) and cannot effectively be applied to blue-collar workers (ex: factory-line workers, mechanics and other non-office settings). Second, throughout his research, Herzberg measured satisfaction and not productivity, assuming that these would be correlated. Although these often have a positive relationship, this may not necessarily be the case in every business situation.

Job satisfaction and job dissatisfaction are not opposites

There are some job factors that result in satisfaction while there are other job factors that prevent dissatisfaction. According to Herzberg, the opposite of “Satisfaction” is “No satisfaction” and the opposite of “Dissatisfaction” is “No Dissatisfaction”. By exploring the question “What do people want from their jobs?”, and asking various people about situations and events at work when they felt exceptionally good or bad about their jobs, the research showed what led to job satisfaction and the things that created job dissatisfaction. The results were two very separate lists.

Just as the complete removal of job dissatisfaction will not cause an employee to feel job satisfaction; job satisfaction does not necessarily eradicate all elements of job dissatisfaction. In fact, satisfying factors were found to be intrinsic (part of the employee’s work), called motivator factors, while dissatisfying factors are extrinsic (related to the employee’s working environment or conditions), named hygiene factors.


Hygiene Factors

Hygiene factors are those job factors which are essential for the existence of any motivation in the workplace. These do not lead to positive satisfaction in the long-term, but if they are absent then they lead to dissatisfaction.

Hygiene factors form part of the physiological needs that employees want and expect to be fulfilled. These include:

  • Pay – The pay or salary structure should be appropriate and reasonable, being equal or competitive with those in the same industry and in the same type of role.
  • Company policies and administrative policies – These should be fair and clear, and could offer some flexibility, not being too rigid. Policies may include flexible working hours, rules around dress code, reasonable breaks, vacation leave, etc.
  • Fringe benefits – Employees may be offered health care plans, gym memberships, benefits for family members, employee help programmes, etc.
  • Physical working conditions – The working conditions should be safe, clean and hygienic with work equipment kept well-maintained and updated.
  • Status – The employees’ status within the organisation should be familiar and retained.
  • Interpersonal relations – The relationship of the employees with his peers, superiors and subordinates should be appropriate and acceptable. There should be no conflict or humiliation element present.
  • Job Security – The organisation must provide job security for the employees not to feel dissatisfaction.


Motivator Factors

These factors yield positive satisfaction and can motivate employees, also leading to better performance when the setting is right. Motivators are factors related to the psychological needs of the employee and include:

  • Recognition – Employees should be praised and recognised for their accomplishments.
  • Sense of achievement – The job should offer some kind of positive result that the employee can strive to achieve.
  • Growth and promotional opportunities – There should be growth and advancement opportunities available within the organisation, allowing employees to build satisfying targets for their careers.
  • Responsibility – The employees should feel responsible for their work, being given ownership by superiors. These may choose to minimise control, but accountability should be retained.
  • Meaningfulness of the work – The work itself should be meaningful, interesting and challenging for the employee to perform, keeping themselves motivated.



Comparing and contrasting the two lists it is easier to understand what needs to be done to remove dissatisfaction in the workplace, but also what other actions need to be taken to set employees on a motivated path throughout their workdays.


If you enjoyed learning about the factors that make up this theory. Why not join our Level 5 Award in Managing People to learn more theories and tools for effective human resource management and performance development. This forms part of our Level 6 Bachelor in Business and Management.


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