Heroes of Employee Engagement: No.3 Frederick Herzberg's Two Factor Theory

James Young
Heroes of Employee Engagement: No.3 Frederick Herzberg's Two Factor Theory

Frederick Herzberg’s Two Factor Theory is one the best-known theories of people management. Motivated (a word you’ll read a lot in this article) by his interest in mental health, the American psychologist carried out an influential study into employees’ attitudes to their jobs.

Herzberg described mental health as “the core issue of our time”. His approach focused on the individual in the workplace. He believed that humans have two sets of needs, lower level and higher level. In order to motivate employees, organisations need to meet both of these. This became his Two Factor Theory.

Frederick Herzberg’s Two Factor Theory

Herzberg first discussed his influential theory in 1959’s Motivation to Work. It’s also known as the ’Hygiene-motivation theory’ because it groups motivators into these two categories, hygiene and growth.

The ’hygiene factors’ cover everything from job security to warm workstations (as well as literal hygiene facilities). Herzberg found that whereas these factors don’t actually increase motivation (“Hey, come and work for my company; the chairs are so comfy!”), if they’re not met, employees could be demotivated. Similar to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs: you can’t build on anything without having the basics in place.

Herzberg describes the ’growth factors’ as the real drivers of motivation. These are aspects of our working life such as achievement, personal development, and the enjoyment of the work itself. In contrast to hygiene, a lack of growth motivators won’t demotivate; however if these factors are in place, you’ll have a team of engaged employees.

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Applying Herzberg’s Two Factor Theory to employee engagement

Early adopter Texas Instruments (TI) experimented with Herzberg’s ideas and found different occupational groups identified more with either motivator or hygiene factors. The majority of the TI workforce were focused on the growth aspect of their work and deemed ”motivation seekers”. A small subset of ”maintainence seekers”, however, were shown to be preocupied with their working conditions, often shunning opportunities become more personally invested.

Herzberg also identified ’job enrichment’ as part of his research into motivating growth factors. He noted that encouraging employees to take on extra responsibilities helps them feel trusted and valued. This received attention from scholars – Winer and Schiff conducted a study in 1980 to see which variables led to the highest motivation. Achievement came in first, followed by chances of promotion and recognition.

Increasingly, companies are now looking for ways to enrich their team’s work. They’re building enrichment into the appraisal and review process, and are evermore investing in training and development opportunities. Our own research also backs up the importance of personal development, with a lack of opportunity being one of the main reasons why employees leave.

Understanding Herzberg’s Two Factor Theory as engagement ’drivers’

Herzberg’s Two Factor Theory established a difference in how we respond to two different kinds of ”motivation”. Growth and hygiene can be considered as internal and external, or intrinsic and extrinsic, drivers of employee engagement.

Intrinsic drivers, such as Accomplishment (or achievement, to use Winer and Schiff’s terminology) stem from an internal desire to undertake a task because it is found to be personally gratifying. Extrinsic motivators focus on the more traditional ”carrot and stick” means of motivation such as Reward.

A particularly good example of an intrinsic driver is Meaningful Work. Developed in Kahn’s Employee Engagement Theory, this concluded that employees need to use their own skills, and know that they’re making a difference to their workplace. Companies are increasingly encouraging feedback about their processes and structures, and empowering staff to take action about improving the business themselves.

Environment, an obvious extrinsic factor, is equally relevant. These days, there’s a focus on shared spaces where colleagues can collaborate and relax together, as well as facilities that can promote employee well-being – just take a look at Google’s proposed London headquarters, which includes a running track, rooftop gardens, massage rooms and swimming pools.

This blueprint of a modern workplace seems to combine both of Frederick Herzberg’s factors. From constructive appraisal systems to fully stocked canteens, we see his influence every day in the workplace – does your company tick both categories?

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