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Applying Herzberg's Two-Factor Theory to the Workplace

10th March 2022

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What do people want from their work? 

Or better yet, what do people need from their work?

Motivation does look different for different people. Some are motivated by job security and good pay, while others look for greater fulfillment, while some care more about an office ping-pong table above all else. 

Understanding what drives us is critical for self-development as individuals, and also for understanding how to create the most effective company culture as managers. While a good salary does the trick for some, others - especially those concerned with ping-pong - need a little more to get them excited about their working week. 

American psychologist, Frederick Herzberg, developed his popular two-factor model which prompts us to think about the cumulative effects of varying factors within our workplace, and how they affect - directly or indirectly - our motivation (hint: it’s not all beanbags and coffee machines). 

Understanding motivation is more important than ever

The pandemic has created a global paradigm shift. We’ve all been confronted with a new, frightening situation that has dramatically changed life as we know it. Even being as lucky as we are in New Zealand, the threat of yet another snap lockdown continues to hover over us - especially as we watch Australia’s changing situation with bated breath. 

Certainly, in the past year and a half, people have been forced to circumstantially reconsider their lives, either from a shift to working from home, or continuing to work - but in conditions compromising basic health and safety protocol - or through losing their job altogether. 

For those of us lucky enough to still control our choices when it comes to work-life balance (i.e. not being forced out of a job), these experiences have encouraged us to understand our underlying motivation that underpins our work. 

Many people are also looking for work that fulfills a deeper purpose and creates more meaning in their lives. Knowing what motivates us, and what we look for in work, is critical to creating a life we look forward to living each day.


Where does two-factor theory fit in?

Developed in the 1960s, Herzberg’s theory divides all the elements of our work into two categories: hygiene factors and motivating factors. The balance of these two factors help create job security and motivation. In order to maintain our workplace motivation, managers should aim to increase both hygiene and motivating factors simultaneously. 

In a nutshell, the presence of hygiene factors help us avoid dissatisfaction, while the presence of motivating factors help us create satisfaction. While these seem similar, Herzberg’s theory distinguishes satisfaction and dissatisfaction from each other. We might commonly perceive them as opposing ends of one continuum, but Herzberg considers them to be two separate phenomena.

Hygiene factors include workplace elements that usually make up our work environment (cleanliness, appropriate numbers of bathrooms, adequate breaktime, living pay). In contrast, motivating factors tend to relate more to the job itself, including things such as increasing skills or responsibilities. 

Much of Herzberg’s inspiration for developing his theory came from Abraham Maslow’s work with his hierarchy of needs. Herzberg’s two-factor theory essentially divides Maslow’s classic pyramid into two distinct categories that affect satisfaction and dissatisfaction separately.

Individuals are not satisfied with basic needs - but will become dissatisfied by their absence. Similarly, individuals experience gratification from higher-level psychological needs. 

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So, what does this mean for managers? 

Being aware of the key motivating factors is important. These include: 

  • Autonomy: Autonomy refers to any individuals’ capacity to make decisions, manage their own work, and make necessary modifications or adjustments to their tasks. Greater responsibility benefits everyone. Managers don’t have to breathe down people’s necks to get work done, and employees feel empowered to make decisions themselves. This win-win situation also begins to cultivate deeper trust between managers and their team. 


  • Adequate recognition: Feeling the satisfaction of a job well done, and receiving praise for good work is another fundamental motivating factor in the workplace. We all have a need for recognition of our efforts from our team - whether that’s our managers, or fellow colleagues. 


  • Meaningful work: Knowing how our contribution to the workplace positively affects the end result helps to create a sense of purpose and meaning for our everyday tasks. It’s useful for managers to relate an employee’s task back to the bigger picture, and link it to the company’s vision or goals. Ideally, we all often feel a greater need to help others. Linking our work to helping others can be instrumental in feeling motivated. 

Common hygiene factors include: 

  • Pay: Basic, livable pay is a non-negotiable hygiene factor. When interviewing people for his research, Herzberg noticed that a lack of pay often cropped up when people spoke of work dissatisfaction, but pay itself was not a common motivating factor. A basic standard of pay does not, in the long-term, give us satisfaction. Rather, the absence of basic pay is incredibly dissatisfying.  


  • Job security: Knowing that your job is safe and that you’re valued as an employee is critical to avoid dissatisfaction. A worker who does not feel safe within their role will continuously feel an underlying sense of stress in their everyday life - affecting their ability to focus and perform. 


  • Basic working conditions (inc. health and safety): A clean, safe and healthy work environment is also critical to keep dissatisfaction low. Workers have the right to a healthy and safe workplace, with functioning amenities and facilities. Safety and security shouldn’t be compromised, neither should cleanliness and (literal) hygiene.


  • Bad leadership: Good leadership and management is another common hygiene factor. While critical for a quality workplace culture and relationship development between staff, leadership is arguably not necessarily motivating in itself. Rather, an abrasive leadership style - from autocracy, to dictatorship or micro-management - can monumentally affect workplace dissatisfaction. 

How to level up your workplace with Herzberg:


Distinguish between hygiene factors and motivational factors: 

From a health and safety lens, basic health and safety falls under hygiene factors. It’s not motivating in itself to be in a safe, clean working environment, but a dangerous, or dirty workspace will become dissatisfying, very quickly. 

Furthermore, expecting to motivate employees only through basic-level perks - such as a liveable salary, or clean and pleasant working conditions, is likely to be ineffective. Focusing on the critical motivating factors of the job will yield greater results, with happier employees. 

This theory also shows the importance of health and safety in the workplace. Managers may impress upon their staff the value and meaning behind their job all they want, but if the toilet is broken, or workers can’t access drinking water on their office level - they might experience dissatisfaction anyway. 


The value of feedback: 

Keep a consistent feedback loop between managers and employees, that’s confidential and safe for everyone to provide constructive feedback. Make the space for managers to congratulate and recognise a job well done, while also listening to any concerns or worries from their employees. 


Focus on job enrichment to create motivation:

Job enrichment - a critical component of managerial psychology - refers to the very act of designing a job to become more motivating. The process of job enrichment centres around adding various dimensions to a job, to enhance motivation. 

Dimensions of job enrichment may include vertical integration, where an employee is given more responsibility and autonomy over their tasks and area of work, increasing the number or variety of tasks given, or increasing an employee’s skill set. This in turn, helps to drive a sense of purpose and meaning into the role. 


Final words:

Herzberg’s two-factor theory is a useful deviation from Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, and expands on the famous pyramid by separating our workplace needs into two distinct categories. 

His theory makes the simple distinction between satisfaction and dissatisfaction and helps us understand why, despite being happy enough with our pay or office space, it might not be enough to feel completely motivated in our job. 

The principle is clear enough: while we’re not motivated by the presence of a bathroom at work, a broken toilet becomes inconvenient very quickly, distracting and demotivating us from our to-do list. 

So is a safe workplace environment motivating? 

Herzberg would argue not necessarily.


  1. Want to know more about how to create a better health and safety culture? View ecoPortal smarter safety videos.  ecoPortal health and safety software can also help your business. Try a demo or get in touch with the team at ecoPortal.


Jessica Strick

Marketing Copywriter

Jess loves being part of the brainstorming, researching and creating scene at ecoPortal. In her spare time, she’s either rearranging her room, discussing the ethics of social media, or training for pole vault.

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