Herzberg’s two-factor theory


This article presents Frederick Herzberg’s two-factor theory.

F. Herzberg

Frederick Herzberg (1923-2000), considered the father of job enrichment, complemented Maslow’s theory with his research. A psychologist in the field of work, he was a professor of industrial psychology at the University of Utah (USA) and a practitioner. He sought to determine the factors that provide job satisfaction and those that cause dissatisfaction.

After years of research and surveys (from 1950 to 1970) in various organizations, his studies led people to recall their positive and negative work-related memories. He discovered that the factors leading to job satisfaction were different from those causing dissatisfaction.

In other words, making an individual less dissatisfied does not necessarily make them satisfied and motivated.

His research led him to develop the two-factor theory or the “bifactorial” theory, based on the observation that individuals respond differently when asked about what motivates them at work and what triggers their dissatisfaction.

Herzberg and the Bifactorial Model

To develop his theory, Herzberg used the critical incident technique. This method involves interviewing employees about specific events in their past work experiences when they felt exceptionally satisfied or dissatisfied.

Through the analysis of responses, he observed that the factors causing pleasant and unpleasant memories were not the same. He gradually distinguished two broad categories of factors.

Factors causing dissatisfaction (or hygiene factors) are not directly related to the job: company policies and administration, the nature of supervision, the competence of supervisors, interpersonal relationships, working conditions, status, and security. If these factors are not addressed by the organization, they generate dissatisfaction. These factors are collective, and when dissatisfaction grows, conflicts can arise within the organization.

Factors leading to motivation (or satisfaction) are intrinsic to the job: self-fulfillment, recognition for the work done, the nature of the job itself, the level of responsibility, opportunities for promotion and acquiring new skills, advancement. These factors are subjective, considered rewarding by individuals, and enable them to engage and mobilize in their work.

Only one factor, compensation, has a roughly equivalent impact in both groups.

According to Herzberg’s theory, satisfaction and dissatisfaction are not opposites. This means that motivation cannot be achieved by eliminating dissatisfaction factors. Similarly, if job satisfaction factors are absent, employees will not exhibit dissatisfaction or discontent but will not be motivated.

The practical applications of Herzberg’s theories are of immediate interest. After half a century of Taylorism, managers began to realize that individuals could take an interest in the work they performed, with potential implications for motivation.

This awareness followed numerous conflicts in the 1960s and the rejection of working conditions by skilled workers. Herzberg translated this reaction into a humanistic language that was audible to corporate management. It became possible to motivate workers by reducing excessive division of labor and the omnipotent power of method offices.

Recognizing that salary alone is not the sole motivator, Herzberg advocated returning to employees what had been taken away by highly specialized functional offices: room for organizing, planning their activities, defining their operating methods, and taking responsibility for maintenance, troubleshooting, and performance self-checks.

Concretely, Herzberg suggested enriching the job; he emphasized the need to differentiate this principle from job enlargement, which involves performing several operations of the same qualification level instead of just one and only slightly increases job interest.

Job enrichment involves a vertical reorganization: the worker performs more complex tasks, is also responsible for machine maintenance and repair, and is responsible for product quality.

Herzberg’s influence on management practices is significant; all these elements remain at the heart of current discussions on work organization design.



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