What Is Herzberg's Motivation Theory

What Is Herzberg's Motivation Theory
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Understanding the Theory

Psychologist Frederick Herzberg was also a business management innovator. His book, One More Time, How Do You Motivate Employees, published in 1968, is still a great read, especially if you are looking to understanding your teams in depth.

With Herzberg’s Motivational Theory, he looked at two factors—hygiene and motivators. Hygiene indictors include looking at how employees felt about the wages they made, company rules and regulations, co-worker alignment, and working conditions.

Herzberg’s motivators, on the other hand looked at job acceptance and satisfaction, levels of achievement, company recognition, job duties, responsibility, and the chance for advancement within a company.

Surprisingly, one would think motivators and hygiene indicators would be opposites, however, with this theory, they are not. Herzberg, according to NetMBA realized, “factors causing satisfaction are different that those causing dissatisfaction, the two feelings cannot simply be treated as opposites of one another,” and “the opposite of satisfaction is not dissatisfaction, but rather no satisfaction.”

The hierarchies of Herzberg’s theory of motivation shows how these hygiene and motivators do cross in concept in the workers world of thinking, however, are employees happy because of what they do at work or are they unhappy because of what’s happening outside of the workplace?

Motivators and Hygiene Indicators

Herzberg Theory Works

In Herzberg’s Motivation Theory, there are five factors he considers as seen in the image to the right (click to enlarge). They include the motivators: self-actualization, ego status, and belonging. The hygiene factors include: safety and basic physiological needs. As seen in the image, motivators and hygiene factors intercept at the “belonging” level.

So does our need to belong and feel wanted make us more motivated? One would think so when you look at society in general. Consider workplace bullying of late, peer pressure in youth, and other factors such as discrimination and non-acceptance. These are all characteristics of wanting and needing to belong without the fear of ridicule or rejection.

If the team is happy, does that mean morale and motivation are high? Perhaps, however, one must also look at the external factors as does Herzberg. If an unmotivated team member has problems at home or financial issues, how motivated can they be if over-stressed? How can you, as a project manager, use this theory to build a better team?

Build a Motivated Team

Take a look at your team using these Herzberg’s motivational factors:

  • Self-actualization – Do team members understand their potential?
  • Ego Status – How large is the ego or, how weak is the ego?
  • Belonging – Are team members accepted by co-workers and other staff?
  • Safety – Do they feel content at work and have a good life balance?
  • Basic Needs – Are their needs fulfilled both at work and play?

Proponents of this theory say while simple in nature, it does look deeply into what one really feels and must achieve in order to succeed.

The naysayers say the simple nature of the theory doesn’t include all the possible realms of a person’s characteristics.

You can use this theory through evaluation and by analyzing individual teams to build a better team.

A Perfect Herzberg Team

Build a Good Team

Let’s say you are given a project and need five team members to work in a cross-functional manner, such as in a Stage-Gate process. You will need to evaluate the five team members you have chosen in order to utilize the theory and perhaps implement situational change. For example:

  1. John – John has an MBA and is dedicated to the company. He has made it known he will never work anywhere else and gets along with everyone.
  2. Bob – Bob also has an MBA but makes sure to let everyone know it—all the time. His ego status is high and he has problems with interpersonal skills because people simply think he’s smug.
  3. Jane – Everyone likes Jane and she is a hard worker, however, she is shy and unsure of herself.
  4. Barb – Barb tells everyone the company may be going under as often as she can and complains about her home life.
  5. Bill – Bill is a happy go lucky type of guy who works well with everyone and always seems to be the go to guy if there is a problem within a project.

Now, how do you get all of these people to work efficiently by applying the Herzberg theory?

  • John – John’s potential is high and he knows it. He has realized (self-actualization) that he can succeed. Embrace these feelings and tell John he is a good example and motivator for other co-workers.
  • Bob – Bob’s ego status is very high and no one likes him. He is apt to take advantage of shy Jane and pick on Barb or put down John. Bob needs some reassurance that he is recognized for his MBA effort and by achieving an MBA, he can utilize his knowledge to better help the team rather than find things wrong with team members. Attack his empathy and tell him he can assist the team in a non-confrontational method.
  • Jane – Because Jane is shy she needs to feel like she’s part of the team (belonging). Entice Jane to speak up and instruct co-workers that Jane’s ideas are ones that should be taken into consideration. Remind other team members how well of a job Jane does and how she can pull things together fast.
  • Barb – Barb is simply a complainer and she doesn’t feel like she is safe anywhere—at work or at home. Often, employee counseling services can help a team member such as this to allow them to realize their characteristics at work are detrimental to interpersonal skills.
  • Bill – All of Bill’s life goals are clearly in place and he is well recognized by both the company and his co-workers. Remind Bill of this and choose him as your team leader.

The Mesh of Personalities

For the Herzberg Motivation Theory to work, a project manager must really gain insight into each team member’s characteristics, skill sets, achievements, and external factors. Most managers do know the personalities of team members and to use this theory effectively, may at times, have to place a bad fit of a team member on a team where characteristics do mesh well.

Managers must also play the psychological role of managing teams if they want a motivated team. Through the evaluation process, managers can employ the right team member for the right job and the right mesh of personalities to get the project done.

Often, failing to evaluate team members can be a non-motivational tool; something that Herzberg does indeed stress. Try this on your team—see if you are successful!


  1. Practical Assessment, Research & Evaluation - https://pareonline.net/getvn.asp?v=5&n=11
  2. NetMBA - https://www.netmba.com/mgmt/ob/motivation/herzberg/

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