Hertzberg’s motivation theory

21. January 2019John Ryding Olsson

How do we perform when we are motivated?

David Rees 2000, states that a motivated project team over longer periods achieve a performance well above their usual standard. The motivated group produces more, secures a higher quality, has a higher work moral and increases their chance of success. But what motivates each individual in the project?

Motivation and maintenance factors

Hertzberg launched his two-factor theory in 1959. He distinguishes between factors that causes satisfaction and dissatisfaction. You may think of it as speeder and brake. In order to enhance motivation, the job needs to hold an inner reward providing the possibility of having a sense of responsibility, challenges and the possibility for advancement and recognition. The factors that cause job satisfaction he calls motivation factors and the factors that – if not fulfilled to a certain point – cause dissatisfaction is called maintenance factors.

 It is important to understand that the maintenance factors don’t motivate – they just remove the dissatisfaction. Naturally I appreciate a pay rise and I might even be willing to make an extra effort immediately after. But it won’t be long until the new salary is business as usual. If the new salary demands more work the balance shifts and dissatisfaction may emerge.

Some employers have misunderstood this and think that the pay isn’t a motivation factor so it’s probably not that important. But if the salary is too low there will be dissatisfaction. If there’s a high level of dissatisfaction in the right side of the figure it will be pretty tough to motivate in the left side. So dissatisfaction can block motivation, but lack of dissatisfaction doesn’t equal motivation. You can say that if there is a high level of dissatisfaction in the left side of the figure it is the same as if some of the basic needs are not fulfilled in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

Hertzberg has carried out detailed studies of the various motivation factors as to how much effect they have and how long the effect lasts. Recognition is a very effective motivation factor which is completely free, so one may wonder why it isn’t used more often by a lot more people. The disadvantage of recognition is that it fades out quickly. The complimentary comments and the pat on the shoulder you received two months ago don’t really count for anything now. Therefore it has a great effect if there is a good feedback-culture in the project, where it is not solely the project leader who gives feedback, but everybody in the team give each other feedback. It is a positive spiral. Responsibility is also a powerful and long-lasting motivation factor. Motivation based on responsibility continues until the responsibility ends.

Hertzberg’s motivation factors – potential speeder

Factors causing satisfaction and motivation if they are appropriately fulfilled on the right level. This level is individually determined.

  • Job contents
  • Performance possibilities
  • Responsibility
  • Influence
  • Recognition
  • Personal development opportunities
  • Opportunities for advancement

 Hertzberg’s maintenance factors – potential brake

Factors that remove dissatisfaction if they are fulfilled at an appropriate level. This level is determined individually. If they are not fulfilled they cause dissatisfaction and thus can impede the motivation.

  • Salary
  • Work conditions
  • Policies and status
  • Social conditions and relationships
  • Information and leadership
  • Physical conditions
  • Safety and security

Frederick Herzberg was born in 1923. He completed his studies and graduated from the City College of New York in 1946. He moved to the University of Pittsburgh where he earned a master’s degree in science and public health. Herzberg started his research on organizations in the 1950s. He worked at the University of Utah, where he left until he retired.

Prior to his move to Utah, Herzberg was professor of management at Case Western Reserve University, where he established the Department of Industrial Mental Health. In his lifetime, Herzberg had consulted for many organizations as well as for the United States and other foreign governments.

 References on motivation

  • Herzberg, Frederick (1987). “One More Time: How Do You Motivate Employees?” Harvard Business Review. 65 (5).
  • Bassett-Jones, Nigel; Lloyd, Geoffrey C. (2005). “Does Herzberg’s motivational theory have staying power?” Journal of Management Development. 24 (10).
  • Herzberg, Frederick; Mausner, Bernard; Snyderman, Barbara B. (1959). The Motivation to Work (2nd ed.). New York: John Wiley and Sons. ISBN 0-471-37389-3.

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John Ryding Olsson Founder & author
John Ryding Olsson Founder & author John Ryding Olsson

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