American psychologist Frederick Herzberg proposed a motivation theory, in the early 1960s, which is known as the two-factor theory. This theory focuses on the distinction between factors that can increase job satisfaction (“motivators”) and those that can prevent dissatisfaction but cannot increase satisfaction (“hygiene factors”).

Motivators are intrinsic factors directly related to the doing of a job, such as the nature of the work itself, responsibility level, personal growth opportunities, and the sense of achievement and recognition directly received by performing the work. The other factors, hygiene factors, are extrinsic to directly performing the job. They, instead, are associated with conditions surrounding the job. Hygiene factors include supervision, relations with co-workers, working conditions, and company policies and practices related to benefits and compensation.

The two-factor theory predicts that “motivator” factors actively increase satisfaction, whereas hygiene factors only decrease dissatisfaction to the point where the employee is “neither satisfied nor dissatisfied.” The theory was an immediate hit with managers when first proposed some years ago because it contains a relatively simple message: To motivate employees, focus on improving how the job is structured. Simply taking care of the hygiene factors can prevent dissatisfaction but will have no effect on positive motivation.

Although intuitively appealing, the two-factor theory has been criticized by some scholars as overly simplistic. For one thing, the theory sometimes confuses satisfaction (positive attitudes based on the receipt of desired rewards) with motivation (the forces that energize, direct, and sustain behavior). Furthermore, subsequent research has shown that it is often impossible to distinguish clearly between variables that only decrease dissatisfaction from those that only increase motivation.

Thus, for example, supervision, a hygiene factor in the theory, not only can reduce dissatisfaction, but it also potentially can contribute to increased motivation to perform at a high level. Consequently, it is likely that the supervision and leadership one receives in a job can have a whole range of effects depending on other factors in the situation and not just be a source of removal of dissatisfaction as the theory would predict. Similar dual motivation and hygiene roles can be assigned to other factors that the theory places in only one or the other category.