Motivation in the workplace – Exploring Hertzberg’s theory of motivation

Origins of the word Motivation lie in the Latin word ‘Movere’, which means to move. The modern definition of motivation has changed over the time and evolved. One definition is that motivation is the way to encourage employees to give their best performance.

It is also understood that motivated employees work harder than usual and ‘care’ about the success of their employer. A motivated group of employees can produce higher output, always strive to improve quality of their product/service and as a result – companies enjoy a higher level of staff retention. Organisations achieve this by offering various monetary and non-monetary incentives to their staff.

The importance of motivation in a workplace has skyrocketed in the last few decades as a result of globalisation and the introduction of internet. Retaining employees has become a critical function of the HR departments whose responsibilities once ended at recruitment, training and firing employees. Now they have to come up with new methods for motivating their staff and utilise their workforce as a competitive advantage. Even though times have moved on, modern managers often take shelter in some of the most traditional theories of motivation. The Maslow’s theory of motivation, introduced by Abraham H. Maslow in 1939 looked at motivational factors in terms of a 5 levelled pyramid. The lower two levels focused on the basic needs such a food, water, security and so on. And the top three levels of the pyramid emphasized the psychological and self-fulfilment needs such as relationships, accomplishments and realising one’s full potential.


Maslow suggested that the two lower levels do not actually provide motivation but their absence could result in demotivated personnel. On the other hand, the upper three levels actually provide intrinsic motivation to the people and result in a motivated workforce.

Building on Maslow’s motivational pyramid – Fredrick Hertzberg, an American clinical psychologist in 1950s proposed the “Two Factor theory” which recognised two factors which influenced job satisfaction – he called them Hygiene and Motivational Factors. The hygiene factors are those aspects of work that are essential for the existence of motivation in work environment although do not really contribute towards motivating employees. They include salary, working conditions, job security, fair HR policies, interpersonal relations and so on. In other words, these do not necessarily motivate people but their absence could be de-motivating for employees.

Hygiene Factors

Motivational Factors



Working conditions

Sense of achievement

Job security

Growth opportunities

HR policies


Interpersonal relations

Decision making Responsibilities


On the other side, Hertzberg highlighted motivational factors which actually work towards motivating employees for increased performance. These factors include recognition, sense of achievement, growth opportunities, challenges, responsibility etc. The interesting thing about these factors is that they focus directly on the intrinsic psychological needs (Maslow’s top two levels of pyramid) of a person which in turn results in high motivation. Hertzberg believed that intelligent managers should take both factors into account while forming motivational programs for their teams because without hygiene factors, one cannot implement the motivational factors successfully.

Like any theory, Hertzberg has his critics. For instance, one of the biggest assumptions the theory makes is that job satisfaction naturally results in higher productivity. Also, Hertzberg carried out his research on 200 accountants and engineers in Pittsburgh, USA. We can infer two points from this, firstly – the sample may not represent the whole population and could be considered unreliable for generalisation. And secondly – the research was conducted in a relatively rich country which means that workers from a developing economy may not be motivated necessarily by the same factors as workers in a developed economy like the USA.

Having said that, Hertzberg is still considered to be one of pioneers in the field of job enrichments and his theory is still broadly used & accepted. Managers in the 21st century have a diverse workforce including millennials, baby boomers, generation Y and so on. Hence, managers need to consider the limitations of this theory, adapt/evaluate the factors according to their environment before its application.