See this in PDF format; revised 21 October 2008.

The relatively inglorious origins of organizational behavior as a field of study began as little more than queries into potential ways to improve productivity and reduce human variability—this at the advent of mass production as practiced today, with Henry Ford’s mechanized production line leading the charge. By the middle of the 20th century, organizational behavior as a codified field of study began to shift to a sort of organizational psychology, dedicated not to eliminating or marginalizing the human factors associated with production, but rather controlling and tempering them. The idea that employees were not only human, but complex persons with the capacity for actualization, began to some degree with the work of Elton Mayo (Pugh & Hickson, 2007, p. 217), but realized some shade of its existing form after World War II, lead by researchers such as Frederick Herzberg.

Herzberg spent the last half of his life as a professor at the University of Utah. Prior to that, he had served in the United States Army, later joining the staff of the Psychological Services of Pittsburgh, during which he and his colleagues began to compile data for what would eventually become The Motivation to Work, a landmark publication which proposed what would become known as the “Motivation-Hygiene” or , more colloquially, the “Two-Factory” theory. This data, in its most complete form, spanned twelve separate rounds of interviews and investigations and included the answers of over 1600 respondents, and used a relatively new and liberal form of interview.

Typical interviewing techniques limit themselves to boolean or narrowly-defined answer domains, so as to make compilation/tabulation easy and limit extraneous or unusable responses to a relative minimum. It is worth noting that Herzberg’s research methods involved more informal questioning which, he reported, produces very different or more revealing answers (Herzberg, Mauzer, and Snyderman 1959/2004, pp. 35-36). Furthermore, Herzberg predicted reporting biases in his study’s respondents, and so employed elements of the Critical Incident Technique, rather than a more structured list of questions which he felt would not adequately capture the required data; neither, he reasoned, would “so-called objective measures” like employee turnover or absenteeism, since there is not a readily-discernible causal relationship to be found in that kind of data (Herzberg et al. 1959/2004, pp. 16, 21). Specifically, Herzberg’s line of questioning asked for “a time when you felt exceptionally good or a time when you felt exceptionally bad about your job, either a long-range sequence of events or a short-range incident” (Herzberg et al., 1959/2004, p. 35).

Pugh and Hickson summarize the Motivation-Hygiene theory in a single sentence as “[T]he events that led to [job] satisfaction were of quite a different kind from those that led to dissatisfaction” (2007, p. 234). In other words, Herzberg’s theory proposed that job satisfaction was not a single continuum with “low satisfaction” on one end and “high satisfaction” on the other; rather, there are two continua which lay at angles to each other, one which indicates Motivation and one which represents Hygiene, to use Herzberg’s parlance.

The constituent qualities of the Hygiene continuum are concerned primarily with the maintenance of the job, such as working conditions, administration, and salary, and while necessary, are limited in their ability to increase job satisfaction; their notable absence, however, leads to job dissatisfaction (Pugh & Hickson, 2007, p. 235). These sorts of factors may be considered roughly equivalent to the lower levels of Maslow’s famous hierarchy of needs—that is, the needs upon which is predicated the continued physical and political existence of the worker. In a later work, Work and the Nature of Man, Herzberg grouped these needs as those of an “Adam” view of man, concerned with “primary drives” (as cited in Miner 2005, p. 64).

The more philosophically-weighty of these continua is the factors of Motivation, which acts independently of Hygiene, and may be roughly equated to the upper levels of Maslow’s hierarchy, including such things as professional accomplishment, growth, self-actualization, and esteem. This, to return to Maslow’s Biblical terminology, is the “Abraham” conception of humans (Pugh & Hickson 2007, p. 235). To understand this metaphor, one must consider the capacity for achievement and self-realization of Man qua child of God. The paradox inherent to these Motivation factors is that the most important of them are invoked the least frequently, since they tend to be monolithic, and evince over longer periods of time.

These two sets of traits, Herzberg says, “must be constantly viewed as having separate biological, psychological and existential origins” (1966, p. 56, as cited in Miner 2005, p. 64). This is the linchpin of the Motivation-Hygiene theory’s novelty; these two separate continua can function independently of one another, and are not opposites. The opposite of job satisfaction is merely no satisfaction, as opposed to active dissatisfaction. In Herzberg’s studies, 81% of factors which contribute to job satisfaction are described as Motivators (growth and development), while 69% of factors which contributed to job dissatisfaction were described as Hygiene (work environment and compensation). During the course of Herzerg’s twelve investigations, these numbers stayed remarkably consistent (Pugh & Hickson, 2007, p. 235).

It is important to note that while Herzberg believed satisfiers and dissatisfiers to be distinct groups, they are in some sense interdependent If the hygiene factors of an occupation are not adequately met, motivators such as potential advancement or the raw appeal of the job’s responsibilities lose much of their ability to motivate (Montana & Charnov, 2000, p. 241). Similarly, a job which meets or even exceeds the requisite hygiene factors but provides no opportunity for growth, advancement, or professional self-realization will not attract or keep creative, motivated people.

The middle section of Maslow’s hierarchy, between the factors dealing with maintenance and those dealing with actualization or realization, is “belonging,” a nebulous region comprised of interpersonal relationships. Herzberg believed this to be a region of overlap in his Motivation-Hygiene theory, since some measure of a sense of community is inherent to work environment, and must be satisfied as a basic maintenance characteristic of the job. Deeper relationships, esteem from the community of employees, and specifically “supervisor-subordinate” relationships reside in the domain of motivation factors, according to Montana & Charnov (2000, p. 240)

As part of the practical application of his theory, Herzberg introduced the concept of job enrichment, which is the calculated addition of new aspects, dimensions, or responsibilities to an employee’s job that allow for his or her continued growth. The distinction as made by Pugh and Hickson (2007, pp. 236-37) is important; adding more iterations of the same task or introducing similarly “undemanding” work will not suffice. These kinds of news tasks require some measure of autonomy or self-governance, and must have the necessary recognition and requisite learning built in. Having carefully delineated what characteristics of a job satisfy which of his theory’s two factors, Herzberg’s later research and writing specifically focused on job enrichment, since he perceived motivators as much more important factors once the basic hygiene factors had been met (Miner, 2005, p. 72).

So-called orthodox job enrichment is the addition of motivation factors without any additional hygiene factors. Herzberg’s examples include such things as empowering the employee to schedule his or her own work (within constraints), giving the employees small budgets and direct responsibility for costs within the the context of their work, and making sure that the ultimate recognition for results is kept as part of the job, instead of shifting to a supervisor or a departmental level (1976, as cited in Miner, 2005, p. 66).

Part of the Two-Factor theory’s longstanding appeal, despite challenges to its validity, is its immediate utility to Human Resources practitioners or I/O psychologists. Miner (2005) refers to its “religious, ethical, and moral overtones” as being directly applicable and even desirable to the office of management (p. 73). What may be its strongest selling point in an institutional sense, however, is the practical conclusions one may ultimately draw. Because the Two-Factor theory describes maintenance factors as ultimately asymptotic when it comes to engendering job satisfaction, and because so many hygiene factors can be directly tied to costs—salary, benefits, environmental quality—as opposed to the more intangible motivator factors, decision-makers who are worried about rising costs may place strict limits on these costly items with a philosophical and managerial impunity.

The Two-Factor theory for modern managers and academics is largely invalid; citing the “virtual absence of tests [—] since 1971,” Judge and Church insists that the scientific evidence after Herzberg’s initial publications has “effectively laid the Herzberg theory to rest” (2000, as cited in Miner, 2005, p. 72). Part of the complaint against Herzberg’s theory is how heavily it is predicated upon the validity of the critical incident method it used in data collection. Miner (2005) posits that at least insofar as the hygiene-to-dissatisfaction correlation is concerned, the participant response was subject to and likely influenced by defense mechanisms. The sort of experimentation required to validate the theory, which is not altogether wrong, has yet to be done, despite a long span of years (p. 72).

Even though the idea of distinct continua has fallen by the wayside, there are aspects of Herzberg’s theory which are still valid and have been institutionalized to a degree (Miner, 2005, p. 73). Job enrichment is an eminently applicable concept; however, it struggles within the context of the Two-Factor theory, as it finds necessary support in only one half of the theory. Miner (2005) cites research which indicates that even under ideal conditions, as much as 15% of test subjects exposed to such job enrichment show no response; the Two-Factory theory, he continues, provides no basis for predicting how or why such results may occur (p. 73). Furthermore, the Two-Factory theory is not intrinsic to the concept of job enrichment.

Though some reviewers like Miner (2005) suggest lingering personal and experimental support for the theory (p. 73), Herzberg’s Two-Factor Theory, at least in its comprehensive form, finds little solid ground on which to stand in the modern field of Organizational Behavior. Insofar as its most salient portions are useful, they have to a great degree been superseded by theories (such as the Job Characteristics theory) which more adequately describe concepts such as job enrichment (p. 74). While convenient in a practical sense, the Two-Factor Theory is fatally flawed in that most of its experimental basis did not take into account the bias of self-reporting, or eliminate enough external variables to convincingly split motivation and hygiene factors into entirely separate continua.


  • Herzberg, F., Mausner, B., & Snyderman, B. B. (2004). The Motivation to Work (7th ed.). New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction. (Original work published 1959)
  • Miner, J. B. (2005). Organizational Behavior I.: Essential Theories of Motivation and Leadership. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe.
  • Montana, P. J., & Charnov, B. H. (2000). Management. Hauppauge, NY: Barron’s.
  • Pugh, D. S., & Hickson, D. J. (2007). Great Writers on Organizations (3rd ed.). Hampshire: Ashgate.
§2985 · November 8, 2008 · Tags: , , ·

5 Comments to “Two-Factor Theory”

  1. Conor says:

    Drawing on purely anecdotal references in my life, I cannot dispute the utter obviousness of the Two-Factor Theory. Of course, it’s beautiful to see it laid out so cleanly (presumably by Herzberg in his work and certainly in your clear analysis), and I’m not saying I would have been able to realize it and formulate it myself, but I completely agree with it.

    As for dissenting academic opinion, can the theory really be "invalidated" for working only 85% of the time? In social science?

    I’m in the school-for-life track I think, and while some might argue that the two-factor theory could apply to education as well as job satisfaction, I feel nothing of the sort. All my buddies, though, are out in the workforce and dealing with the realization that solid hygiene does not a happy worker make. Many of them would gladly take a pay cut to spend their days doing the type of work they enjoy doing.

    Fantastic writeup, thanks for sharing.

  2. Conor says:

    Also, my day has totally been made by the fact that your header quote was from "December Flower" by In Flames.

  3. Jamie says:

    Nice essay. That takes me back!

    It’s not so much that the Two-Factor theory has been disproven per se, but it has been superseded by more complete and more elaborate models of job (dis)satisfaction that are better supported by data. Though there’s still a lot more research to be done.

  4. Ben says:

    @Jamie: Oh hell, that’s right: you’re an I/O psychologist, aren’t you? Well, glad I didn’t make a complete fool of myself…

    @Conor: the 85% success rate of job enrichment isn’t so much a validation of Two-Factor so much it is a validation of job enrichment. I think the crux of Two-Factor theory—that these two continua are mostly separate and non-interactive—is what’s been disputed, or not sufficiently backed up by research in these intervening years.

    Part of the problem is that the Two-Factor theory seems intuitive, which gives it an immediate appeal.

  5. Jamie says:

    Nope, like I said it’s a solid treatment from what I can tell. I haven’t really studied that particular corner of the field since grad school, though.

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