Two-factor theory


The two-factor (sometimes also called motivation-hygiene theory) was proposed by psychologist Frederick Herzberg which propounds the belief that an individual’s relation to work is basic and that one’s attitude towards work can very well determine success or failure. Survey was conducted as part of a research to know what an individual needs from a job. People were asked to describe, in detail, situations in which they felt exceptionally good or bad about their jobs. These responses were then tabulated and categorized.

From the categorized responses, the psychologist concluded that the replies people gave when they felt good about their jobs were significantly different from the replies given when they felt bad. It could be seen certain characteristics tend to be consistently related to job satisfaction and others to job dissatisfaction. Intrinsic factors, such as advancement, recognition, responsibility and achievement seem to be related to job satisfaction. Respondents who felt good about their work tended to attribute these factors as their own contribution.. On the other hand, dissatisfied respondents tended to cite extrinsic factors, such as supervision, pay, company policies, and working conditions.

The data suggested that the opposite of satisfaction is not dissatisfaction, as was traditionally believed. Removing dissatisfying characteristics from a job does not necessarily make the job satisfying. The findings indicated the existence of a dual continuum: The opposite of “Satisfaction� is “No Satisfaction� and the opposite of “Dissatisfaction� is “No Dissatisfaction.�

The factors leading to job satisfaction are separate and distinct from those that lead to job dissatisfaction. Therefore, managers who seek to eliminate factors that can create job dissatisfaction may bring about peace but not necessarily motivation. They will be placing their work force rather than motivating them. As a result, conditions surrounding the job such as quality of supervision, pay, company policies, physical working conditions, relations with others, and job security were characterized in the research results as hygiene factors. When they’re adequate, people will not be dissatisfied; neither will they be satisfied. If they want to motivate people on their jobs, the psychologist suggested emphasizing factors associated with the work itself or to outcomes directly derived from it, such as promotional opportunities, opportunities for personal growth, recognition, responsibility, and achievement. Those are the characteristics that people find intrinsically rewarding

The two-factor theory is not without detractors. The criticisms of the theory include the following:

1. The procedure that was used is limited by its methodology. When things are going well, people tend to take credit themselves. Contrarily, they blame failure on the extrinsic environment.

2. The reliability of Herzberg’s methodology is questioned. Raters have to make interpretations, so they may contaminate the findings by interpreting one response in one manner while treating a similar response differently.

3. No overall measure of satisfaction was used. A person may dislike part of his or her job yet still think the job is acceptable.

4. The theory is inconsistent with previous research. The two-factor theory ignores situational variables.

5. A relationship between satisfaction and productivity was assumed, but the research methodology Herzberg used looked only at satisfaction not at productivity. To make such research relevant, one must assume a strong relationship between satisfaction and productivity.

Regardless of criticisms, the theory has been widely read, and few managers are unfamiliar with his recommendations. The popularity over the past 40 years of vertically expanding jobs to allow workers greater responsibility in planning and controlling their work can probably be attributed largely to Herzberg’s findings and recommendations.

In Indian context employee satisfaction, motivation, happiness and sense of responsibility depends not alone on pay or nature of work but also the way the immediate superior interacts with the employee. Some bosses themselves are so confused they resort to employee harassment rather than identifying the development needs so as to raise the capability of the employee. In such a case it appears he superior himself is not having adequate job knowledge or managerial level skills.

  • All theories of motivation are a waste of cognitive time and effort. Every individual is motivated by whatever he/she wants. What we want varies from time to time and from situation to situation. The only reliable way to find out what people want is to ask them. As HR professionals we should treat employees as individuals and not try to categorize them using some mathematical formula.