Can Herzberg’s Two-Factor Theory Be Used To Motivate Employees Through Change?

In 1968, the Harvard Business Review magazine published one of its most popular articles in the history of its existence – One More Time: How Do You Motivate Employees?
(vol. 46, iss. 1, pp. 53–62). This article described Frederick Herzberg’s study on the elements that lead to satisfied employees and the elements that lead to dissatisfied employees. Frederick Herzberg explained his research using a two factor theory.

Herzberg’s Two-Factor Theory Explained
To summarize Herzberg’s two-factor theory, the factors that make an employee satisfied at work are different than the factors that make an employee dissatisfied.

View the video below for a quick summary of his model:

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Herzberg’s model was based on a set of interviews targeting accountants and engineers from Pittsburgh. The participants were asked to describe experiences at work when they felt exceptionally positive or negative feelings, and to provide the reasons that gave rise to those feelings. It was discovered that the factors leading to job satisfaction were different than the factors leading to job dissatisfaction.

Based on Frederick Herzberg’s research, the elements that lead to job satisfaction are:
– Achievement
– Recognition
– The work itself
– Increased responsibility
– Advancement
– Growth

The elements that lead to job dissatisfaction are:
– Company policy
– The relationship with your direct supervisor
– The work conditions
– Salary
– The relationship with peers
– A lack of job security

Criticism towards the dual factor theory
This model has been criticized for making the assumption that satisfied workers are more productive than dissatisfied workers. Despite this valid criticism, I put the essence of this model into good use when I focus on increasing employee engagement during change initiatives. I use Herzberg’s top two elements for job satisfaction, (1) achievement and (2) recognition, to create a greater sense of positive involvement during change.

When employees are given the opportunity to achieve a task, and receive recognition for this achievement from people whose opinion they value, the initiative as a whole will gain momentum in the right direction – one small win at a time.

Thinking about my own experiences, I am much more apt to adopt a change when I am given the opportunity to achieve a new task and to be recognized for my achievements. I’m not saying that achievement and recognition is the sure way to successful organizational change, but it’s a simple and straightforward way to help move the change in the right direction. Next time you create a training and rollout plan, break down new tasks in a way that they can be comfortably achieved and make sure the management team and other change leaders praise new behaviours at the right time. You may see a big improvement. What have you got to lose?

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