The theory developed by Frederick Herzberg in his book "The Motivation to Work" (1959) to explain work behavior and to motivate employees. In contrast to Abraham Maslow's theory of the hierarchy of needs, which is based more on unsystematic observation and intuitive insight, it is based on empirical research.
The core of Herzberg's theory is the distinction between two types of factors that cause satisfaction and dissatisfaction at work: hygiene factors and motivators.
The hygiene factors are not related to the work itself, but to conditions that only surround the execution of the work. So they are extrinsic in nature. They got their name because they work analogously to the principles of medical hygiene: Hygiene does not heal, but can only remove health risks from the human environment. Accordingly, these factors can only prevent dissatisfaction from developing; but they are not able to generate satisfaction.
According to Herzberg, the most important hygiene factors are:
- Relationships with subordinates, superiors and equals
- Technical aspects of leadership
- Company policy and organization
- Physical working conditions
- Personal, job-related living conditions
- job security
The motivators are factors that are related to the work itself, i.e. are intrinsic in nature. Since they are able to satisfy the need for self-fulfillment at work, they can lead to a positive work attitude, i.e. to satisfaction.
Herzberg names the most important motivators:
- performance success
- Recognition of one's own performance
- work yourself
- Development opportunities
Both the motivators and the hygiene factors meet the needs of the worker. As far as their different effects are concerned, a differentiation is made that appears unusual at first glance. The opposite of satisfaction is not mentioned as dissatisfaction, but differentiated as follows:
- The opposite of satisfaction is given as dissatisfaction
- the opposite of dissatisfaction is called non-dissatisfaction
Hygiene factors can only cause non-dissatisfaction; Motivators, on the other hand, satisfaction. The hygiene factors are therefore also called the “dissatisfactors” (“dissatisfiers”) and the motivators the “satisfiers” (“satisfiers”).
Hygiene factors satisfy deficit motives, ie they meet the need to avoid unpleasant situations. In contrast, motivators satisfy growth motives, ie they do not have an avoidance but an approximation effect.
Herzberg and his employees conducted their surveys according to the - method of critical events: The respondent is asked to report on situations in their own professional activity that they remember as unusually pleasant or unusually unpleasant. So it is not typical or representative, but extreme events are recorded.
The criticism of Herzberg's theory is directed towards both the content of the theory and the method of collection. In detail, the criticism is directed at the following points:
- The differences found between the stated reasons for satisfaction and dissatisfaction could possibly simply be based on the fact that the respondents look for the reasons for satisfaction more in themselves, but rather want to "blame" others for the reasons for dissatisfaction.
- Herzberg only records top experiences. Conclusions that are justified for extreme experiences do not, however, have to apply to the intermediate areas as well. On a scale of (dissatisfaction) only one statement is made about the respective extreme point. For the alleged causal relationship, however, the scale should be viewed as continuous and it should be demonstrated that a higher value is achieved on the satisfaction scale if a motivator is introduced, but not if a hygiene factor is introduced; and that a higher score on the dissatisfaction scale is achieved if a hygiene factor is removed, not against if a motivator is removed. However, such evidence has not yet been provided.
- In connection with this, the theory is called imprecise and global. Accordingly, King stated that the theory formulated by Herzberg basically distinguishes between five different theories:
(1) All motivators together contribute more to satisfaction than dissatisfaction and all hygiene factors together contribute more to dissatisfaction than satisfaction. This theory is confirmed by the results of the so-called Pittsburgh study, in which 203 technicians and administrators were interviewed.
(2) All motivators combined contribute more to satisfaction than all hygiene factors combined and all hygiene factors combined contribute more to dissatisfaction than all motivators combined. This theory is also confirmed in the Pittsburgh study.
(3) Each individual motivator contributes more to satisfaction than dissatisfaction and each individual hygiene factor contributes more to dissatisfaction than satisfaction.
(4) It applies (3) and additionally: Each major motivator contributes more to satisfaction than any hygiene factor and each major hygiene factor contributes more to dissatisfaction than any motivator.
(5) Only motivators determine satisfaction and only hygiene factors determine dissatisfaction.