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/. occup. Psychol. 1977,50,197-204.

Pritited in Great Britain

Is there a valid test of Herzberg's


two-factor theory?
GODFREY GARDNER
Department of Behaviour in Organisations, University of Lancaster;
on study ieavefrom the Department of Psychology, University of Melbourne
There are several ways of stating Herzberg's two-factor theory of motivation and
each version can be tested in various ways. Those who defend the theory argue
that researchers who fail to find support for the theory have usually departed
from the procedures used by Herzberg. There have been variations in methods of
gathering data, categorizing the responses, and analysing the results. These
variations may be justified on the grounds that the strength of any theory lies
in its logic and in its ability to withstand deviations from a set method. Some
tests of Herzberg's theory are more likely to produce support than others. This
was confirmed in a study of London bus crews. However it can be argued that
there is more than one valid test of Herzberg's two-factor theory, though some
of these are likely to produce contradictory results.

The Herzberg theory, or two-factor theory of motivation or Motivator-Hygiene


(M-H) theory, has given rise to a mass of investigations and experiments in industry
and in many different types of organizations. Results do not always support Herzberg;
in fact, only about one in three do so. Donald Hebb once said that when it is a question
of survival, theories are like womenfecundity is more important than purity. M-H
theory has certainly been very fertilemore so perhaps than any other theory in
applied social psychology. Many industrial psychologists have not only survived but
indeed thrived on the theory. The fecundity of the theory is not in doubt but its purity
certainly is highly suspect.
WHAT IS THE THEORY?

The theory is in two parts, each of which can be stated in several ways. Part 1
says that job factors can be separated into two quite distinct sets: the first set consists
of factors which contribute to job satisfaction and rarely if at all to job dissatisfaction;
these factors are called 'Motivators'. The second set consists of job factors which
contribute to job dissatisfaction and rarely if at all to job satisfaction; these are the
'Hygienes'. Consequently job satisfaction and dissatisfaction are separate dimensions
and not the two ends of a single dimension. This is a flat contradiction of the traditional view in psychology that satisfaction and dissatisfaction constitute a single
dimension.
The first difficulty with the theory in practice is that the data usually include a
proportion of responses which do not fit this pattern. Some Motivators contribute
to dissatisfaction while some Hygienes contribute to satisfaction. Within-factors
reversals are far from rare and sometimes outnumber responses in the expected
direction. These incongruent responses are attributed to sampling error, which of
course is begging the questionrejecting inconvenient data in order to save the
theory. The analysis then takes the form of a relative comparisonfor Motivators we
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GODFREY GARDNER

predict more satisfaction than dissatisfaction, and for Hygienes we predict more
dissatisfaction than satisfaction and test for significance accordingly.
What investigators fail to point out is that in doing this they are really reformulating the theory to fit their facts. The revised theory now says, in effect, that
Motivators contribute more to satisfaction than to dissatisfaction while Hygienes
contribute more to dissatisfaction than satisfaction. This is reasonable but it makes
nonsense of the claim that satisfaction and dissatisfaction are separate dimensions. In
fact it supports the traditional view of the single continuum; different job factors
produce ranges of satisfaction-dissatisfaction which are to be found at different
positions on the same continuum.
Part 2 of the theory is also in two parts.
First: paying more attention to Motivators (intrinsic job satisfaction or higher
order needs) will increase satisfaction but will not affect any dissatisfaction with the
job; or, alternatively, improving Motivators will improve organizational efficiency as
shown by higher productivity, better quality, better attendance and punctuality,
lower labour turnover... in short, by improved performance.
Second: paying more attention to Hygiene factors (extrinsic job satisfaction or
lower order needs) will decrease dissatisfaction but will not increase overall satisfaction; or alternatively, there will be no improvement in performanceon the contrary, taking costs into account there will be a lowered organizational efficiency because improving Hygienes will cost the organization more money.
Notice that for each part of Part 2, i.e. as regards both Motivators and Hygienes,
there are alternative predictions. Increase of satisfaction or decrease of dissatisfaction
are both theoretically trivial extensions of Part 1 of the theory; trivial in that they say
no more than is already contained in that model. To be fair to the M-H practitioners
they do not rest their case on this alternative; they are concerned only with the effects
on performance and organizational efficiency. Job satisfaction is either a by-product
or a step towards better efficiency. This may tell us something about the value system
in which they operate but it in no way detracts from the validity of this method of
testing their theory. One problem must now be faced. Does Part 2 of the theory depend
on Part 1? According to House & Wigdor (1967, p.385) if the satisfaction-dissatisfaction dichotomy is false then Part 2 is 'highly suspect'. I would argue that if Part 1
is false then Part 2 is irrelevant or must be argued on other grounds. If and only if
Part 1 is true, then Part 2 can be tested using the concepts established by Part 1.
Another serious difficulty for testing the validity of the theory is the fact that both
parts stand on two legs. In Part 1, one leg identifies Motivators while the other
identifies Hygienes; in Part 2 one leg predicts the effects of increasing the potency of
Motivators while the other leg deals with changes in Hygienes. Does the theory claim
that each part can stand on one leg at a time? If one investigator confirms the Motivator leg but not the Hygiene leg, does Part 1 of the theory stand or fall? And if
another investigator follows with the opposite result, confirming Hygienes but not
Motivators, does this increase or diminish our confidence in the theory?
Similarly for Part 2 of the theory. In any case, testing the effect of putting more
weight on the Motivators is a dubious procedure if this is the only change. The effects
are not really surprising. The relative ineffectiveness of spending resources on
Hygienes, which is what the theory also predicts, may surprise industrial welfare
advocates but not cynical managers.

IS THERE A VALID TEST OF HERZBERG'S TWO-FACTOR THEORY?

199

ARGUMENTS ABOUT WHAT THE THEORY SAYS

In general terms, statements describing the theory are superficially similar and do
not differ greatly from the way set out above. For instance: Whitsett & Winslow
(1967, p.393) in explaining M-H theory say 'dissatisfaction and those factors that
contribute to dissatisfaction are separate and distinct from those factors that contribute
to satisfaction. Satisfaction is not opposite from dissatisfaction for they operate on
separate continua... This is different from traditional thinking...' As regards Part 2,
House & Wigdor (1967, p.371) say 'The second major hypothesis of the dual-factor
theory of motivation is that the satisfiers are effective in motivating the individual to
superior performance and effort, but the dissatisfiers are not'. Later they add (p.373)
'If the dual-factor theory were correct, we should expect highly satisfied people to be
highly motivated and to produce more' which as they point out does not square with
the evidence.
But though general statements are similar, precise statements, if made at all,
are usually inconsistent or at variance with each other. Sometimes there is no argumentan author assumes that his understanding of the theory is the same as that of
others. Or the research design indicates an underlying interpretation of the theory
which may be similar to or quite different from that of another study which the author
is supporting or refuting; but authors seem to be unaware of this. Arguments about
what the theory says may be unspoken and have to be inferred.
However, sometimes interpretations of the theory are set out in a way that makes
possible comparisons with other interpretations. For example. House & Wigdor
(1967) include a rank order of importance for the Motivators and for the Hygienes as
part of the theory. This reflects the infiuence of Maslow upon Herzberg and may be a
reasonable interpretation of Herzberg's intention. On the whole it seems an unnecessary
refinement that makes for extra complications when testing validity. Whitsett &
Winslow (1967) accuse Burke (1966) of 'A unique misinterpretation of the M-H
theory . . . since M-H theory makes no claim that there should be any fixed order of
importance among either motivator or hygiene factors' (p.41O). As it happens Burke
makes no such claim either.
Is overall job satisfaction part of the theory? Not according to Whitsett &
Winslow (1967) who say: 'One of the most common and persistent misinterpretations
of the Motivation-Hygiene (M-H) theory is the attempt to use measures of overall
job satisfaction to make statements purporting to be derived from the theory. The
theory does not, and purposely does not, make statements about overall job satisfaction' (p.395). In stating that job attitudes must be looked at twice (p.396) they are
emphasizing Herzberg's procedure of conducting separate sets of interviews for good
critical incidents at work (revealing satisfaction and hence Motivators) and for bad
critical incidents (revealing dissatisfaction and hence Hygienes).
Perhaps the most systematic attempt to sort out what the theory really says was
made by King (1970) who identified five distinct versions of Part 1 of the theory.
Some versions are stronger than others because they entail them. King is not always
sure that Herzberg was aware of these versions or which of them Herzberg was
claiming to support. King classifies the evidence according to whether it is irrelevant or
relevant to these theories, and then subdivides the relevant studies into those which
support and those which refute any of thesefivetheories.
Table 1 sets out King's five distinct versions of Herzberg's two-factor theory. In
thefirstcolumn King's wording is used but the two statements (or 'legs') are separated

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GODFREY GARDNER

into (a) and (i). King connects each pair with 'and' thus implying that both statements
are integral parts of the theory and are either logically entailed in each other or
require joint empirical support. In the second column I have made an attempt to
state these theories in a shorthand form so that the differences between the five
versions can be readily seen by glancing down the column.
Table 1. King's versions of Herzberg's theory transposed into
diagrammatic form
Theory
All motivators (Ms) combined
contribute more to job satisfaction (S)
than to job dissatisfaction (D)

Diagrammatic form
(EMs->S) > (SMs^-D)

(6)

All Hygienes (Hs) combined


contribute more to D than to S

(SHs-^D) > (ZHs-^S)

(a)

All Ms combined contribute more to S


than do all Hs combined

(SMs->S) > (IHs->S)

(6)

All Hs combined contribute more to D


than do all Ms combined

(I:HS->D)>(

(a)

Each M contributes more to S than to D

ib)

Each H contributes more to D than to S

(a)

IV

(a)
(a)

Theory III holds and in addition


each principal M contributes more to S
than does any H

(each M>S) > (any Hj^S)

each principal H contributes more to D


than does any M

D) > (any M->D)


(each H ^ D

(a)

Only Ms determines

only Ms>S

(b)

Only Hs determine D

only Hs-^D

(b)

It will be fairly obvious that theories I to V are progressively more exacting. King
claims that if theory II is true then so is theory I but that support for theory I does not
ensure that theory II must be true; therefore theory II is stronger than theory I.
Because each M and each H has to be tested separately, theory III is a stronger
version of theory I. Given the six Motivators and ten Hygienes listed by King (1970,
p.l8) from Herzberg, Mausner & Snyderman (1959), theory III would require 16
comparisons and, where necessary, 16 significance tests before theory III could be

IS THERE A VALID TEST OF HERZBERG'S TWO-FACTOR THEORY?

201

accepted. However King believes that a failure to confirm one item, e.g. 'Possibility
of (personal) Growth', a Motivator with satisfaction 6 per cent and dissatisfaction
8 per cent, would not contradict the theory unless the negative difference proved to be
significant. But he does not say how many Ms (or Hs) must be positive, with significant
differences, in order to justify a claim supporting theory III as a whole. This lack of a
criterion would create even more uncertainty in any definitive testing of theory IV.
For theory V a single dissonant factor in either {a) or (b) would throw doubt on the
theory unless some degree of tolerance (unspecified) for exception is permitted.
More than half of the published evidence contradicts the M-H theory. In view
of the exacting nature of theories III, IV, and V and the fact that many investigators,
including Herzberg, do not always make clear which version of the theory they are
testing, the high proportion of contradictory evidence is not really surprising. Some
investigators have reanalysed the original data of others in order to test different
versions of the theory. Reanalysis has sometimes produced a reversal of the original
results. The proportion of evidence regarded as contradicting the theory would depend
on which studies were excluded. King calls 'irrelevant' those studies which do not
test one of his five versions or which use an inappropriate method.
The appropriate method for testing the theory is a matter of controversy. Method
will be discussed in the next section. Meanwhile we should note that the exclusion
of studies on the grounds that they used the 'wrong method', constitutes a revision
of the theory Part 1. The theory would have to be restated in terms which restrict the
predictions to responses obtained by using a particular method (i.e. Herzberg's
original method). This would destroy any link between Part 1 and Part 2 of the theory.
METHODS USED IN M-H THEORY RESEARCH

It is argued (Grigaliunas & Herzberg, 1971; Grigaliunas & Wiener, 1974) that
researchers who fail to find support for M-H theory have usually departed from the
procedures used by Herzberg. The crucial point of departure is in the method of
gathering the information to be analysed.
Gathering the data
The Herzberg method is to ask informants to recall occasions at work when they
had felt 'exceptionally good' about their jobs. These events or 'critical incidents' are
then freely expounded. In a second set of interviews a similar approach is used to
explore those occasions when informants felt 'exceptionally bad' about their jobs. It
is thus a retrospective story-telling critical-incident technique; the respondent is not
presented with a predetermined inventory. It is fair to claim that investigators who use
typical job satisfaction questionnaires and rating scales are unlikely to tap salient
spontaneous feelings which people have towards various aspects of their jobs. Two
criticisms have been made against this procedure.
1. It is retrospective ('think of a time when') and therefore inevitably selective.
Respondents are likely to be defensive and recall more readily those favourable
events which reflect credit upon themselves and those unfavourable events which
can be attributed to others or to external conditions (Vroom, 1964).
2. The procedure is prone to response set effects (Malinovsky & Barry, 1965).
These could be especially strong since Herzberg uses two separate sets of interviewsone for the 'good' and one for the 'bad' critical incidents. However this part of the
procedure is seldom, if ever, replicated.

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Categorizing the responses


The next step is the classification of the responses into the various M-H job
factors, about 16 in all. As with any open-ended inquiry, much may depend on the
way the responses are categorizedwhich categories are used and who codes the
responses. As Locke (1975) points out (p.468): 'Only when Herzberg's basic methodology, including his classification scheme, is used is the theory consistently supported'.
The two main problems are definition and coders.
1. The operational definitions are said to be inadequate and critics have questioned the mutual exclusiveness of these job factors (House & Wigdor, 1967).
2. Experimenter bias may occur when the coding is performed by researchers or
their assistants (King, 1970). The responses do not automatically sort themselves out
into the prearranged categories; further interpretation is required. Graen (1966)
suggested coding by the subjects themselves as a solution.
Analysing the results
AU five versions of the theory in Table 1 refer to responses and not to individuals.
Herzberg pooled all the responses. Alternatively individuals may be categorized,
according to their responses, on each of the job factors which they mention. According
to Schwab & Heneman (1970), of the two methods aggregate analysis based on all
the responses is more likely to confirm M-H theory. Does validity depend on the
unit of analysis?
A recent study (Gardner, 1977) shows that for M-H theory confirmation does
depend on the unit of analysis. A sample of 104 male London bus drivers and conductors were interviewed (thanks to John Williams then at the University of Lancaster, Department of Behaviour in Organisations). After preliminary questions they
were first asked what they liked about their jobs and then what they disliked. Respondents were encouraged, by asking them 'anything else ?', to give as many responses as
they needed to each question. This open-ended style was reasonably similar to Herzberg's procedure except that there was only one interview with each subject and the
questions related to present feelings rather than past events.
Of the 130 responses relating to Motivators, 82 per cent expressed satisfaction,
thus supporting theory \{a); of the 399 responses relating to Hygienes, 58 per cent
expressed dissatisfaction, thus supporting theory \{b). In each case the result was
highly significant (/*= < 0-001) so aggregate analysis confirmed the theory.
But the individual analysis confirmed only the Motivators (P=0-05) and not
the Hygienes. Taking a different individual test (Ms and Hs together, which is a very
strict test), only 31 per cent of individuals responded as predicted to both factors and
so the theory clearly fails.
These results also illustrate the difference between theory I and theory II. Combined Motivators contributed 107 to satisfaction responses, whereas the combined
Hygienes contributed 168 to satisfaction responses. This is contrary to theory II(a).
Combined Hygienes contributed 231 to dissatisfaction responses, the Motivators
contributed only 23; thus providing strong support to theory l\{b). As shown above
theories I (a) and (Jb) were both strongly supported.
When subjects can make more than one response to each job factor, as in the
London bus study just cited, individual differences can be lost in the aggregate analysis
of all responses. The individual analysis classifies the responses of each individual as
contributing to satisfaction or dissatisfaction (by each factor) and is therefore more

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likely to identify theoretically deviant response patterns. For example, those individuals who each, on balance, contributed more satisfaction than dissatisfaction
responses to some of the Hygienes, would be swamped in the aggregate analysis by the
other individuals who contributed a much larger total of responses in the reverse
manner.
Method-free or method-bound?
There are two comments to be made on the methodological controversy around
M-H theory. First, to make any theory dependent upon the method changes the
nature of that theory and limits generalization. Second, one may question the
robustness of a theory which cannot stand up to methodological variations (Gardner,
1977).
King (1970, p.29) cites the principle of multiple operationalism in these words: 'a
hypothesis is validated only if it is supported by two or more different methods of
testing, where each method contains specific idiosyncratic weaknesses, but where the
entire collection of methods permits the elimination of all alternative hypotheses'.
CONCLUSIONS

1. There are many distinct versions but nevertheless all are possible interpretations
of Herzberg's two-factor theory. Some versions are stronger than others.
2. This makes comparisons difficult because different studies are in fact testing
different hypotheses.
3. Validity tests based on aggregate responses are more likely to support M - H
theories than analyses based on individuals.
4. Complete consistency by individuals on Motivators as a group and on Hygienes
as a group provides a very severe test which is likely to be met by no more than a
third of the respondents.
5. An even more severe testindividuals by separate Motivators and Hygienes,
with the proviso that most (rather than all) Motivators and Hygienes elicit the predicted satisfaction or dissatisfaction responses, would probably never be met.
6. All of which indicates that there is no single test of validity for M - H theory but
a multiplicity of hypotheses which should be tested in a multiplicity of ways.
REFERENCES
BURKE, R . J. (1966). Are Herzberg's motivators and hygienes unidimensional? J. appl. Psychol. 50,
317-321.
GARDNER, G . (1977). The higher-order needs of London bus crews: A two-factor analysis. Hum.
Relat. (in press).
GRAEN, G . B . (1966). Motivator and hygiene dimensions for research and development engineers.
/ . appl. Psychol. 50,563-566.
GRiGALmNAS, B. & HERZBERG, F . (1971). Relevancy in the test of motivation-hygiene theory. / .
appl. Psychol. 55,73-79.
GRIGALIUNAS, B . & WIENER, Y . (1974). Has the research challenge to motivation-hygiene theory
been conclusive ? An analysis of critical studies. Hum. Relat. 27,839-871.
HERZBERG, F . , MAUSNER, B. & SNYDERMAN, B . (1959). The Motivation to Work, 2nd ed. New York:

Wiley.
HOUSE, R . J. & WIODOR, L . A. (1967). Herzberg's dual-factor theory of job satisfaction and motivation : A review of the evidence and a criticism. Personn. Psychol. 20,369-389.
KING, N . (1970). Clarification and evaluation of the two-factor theory of job satisfaction. Psychol.
Bull. 74,18-31.

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LOCKE, E. A. (1975). Personnel attitudes and motivation. Ann. Rev. Psychol. 26,457-480.
MALINOVSKY, M . R . & BARRY, J. R. (1965). Determinants of work attitudes. / . appl. Psychol. 49,
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VROOM, V. H. (1964). Work and Motivation. New York: Wiley.
WHITSETT, D . A. & WINSLOW, E. K . (1967). An analysis of studies critical of the motivation-hygiene
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Received 7 March 1977
Department of Psychology
University of Melbourne
Parkville
Victoria 3052
Australia