A summary of the life of Frederick Herzberg, organizational psychologist.
The figure of Frederick Herzberg is widely known in social psychology and, especially, that of organizations, since his innovative theory on motivation and hygiene has served to improve the conditions of employees in the workplace.
As has happened with many famous psychologists, Herzberg not only devoted himself to research but also taught classes, training other psychologists aware of the importance of mental health and well-being in work motivation.
Next, we will see the life of this American psychologist through a biography of Frederick Herzberg, we will delve into his theory on motivation and hygiene and comment on some other findings that, in his time, became truly innovative.
Short biography of Frederick Herzberg
Frederick Herzberg was an American psychologist, famous for being among the first to study motivation in the workplace.
His main contribution to social and organizational psychology was the theory of factors, exposed in several of his publications and being, today, very much taken into account in the workplace. He was also among the first to use semi-structured surveys to collect more extensive and accurate data, rather than being limited to batteries with questions answered with yes / no.
The life of this psychologist begins in Massachusetts, passes in New York and ends in Utah, having a productive and recognized professional career. Their work has contributed considerably to taking into account the psychological well-being of workers, aspects more important than their productivity, salary and number of hours worked.
First years and professional training
Frederick Irving Herzberg was born on April 18, 1923 in Lynn, Massachusetts, the son of Gertrude Irving and Lewis Herzberg, a married couple of immigrants from Lithuania. He spent his childhood and early teenage years in Massachusetts, although later his life would change and he would move to a more suitable place for his academic development.
At just 13 years old, he left home to go to New York, looking for better opportunities. There she stood out for her great intellectual capacities, allowing her at age 16 to win the New York Regents Examination Board scholarship and to study at the famous City College of New York. In that center she would begin her studies in History and Psychology.
After the Second World War in which he had to participate, he was discharged with honors, rejoining civilian life and taking advantage of a war veteran’s scholarship. Thus he was able to enjoy more time with his wife Shirley Bedell, whom he had married in 1944. At that time he returned to the City College of New York to complete his studies, graduating in 1946 and obtaining a master’s degree in Psychology. Two years later he would obtain a doctorate in the same discipline and a master’s degree in public health at the University of Pittsburgh.
In the 1950s, after a brief stay with the Pittsburgh Psychological Aid Service, he joined the Research and Projects Section of the American Public Health Service. In 1956 he joined the Case Western Reserve University, serving as director of the Department of Psychology.
While at that institution, he would work as a teacher, specializing in the area of business management. He would also have the opportunity and the will to create a mental health department in the company. Thus, you could further investigate how motivation and satisfaction are important factors in the performance and well-being of workers.
Development of the theory of motivation and hygiene
Herzberg’s first notable work was his book Motivation to Work (1967), where he exposes his discoveries made in conjunction with the collaboration of Bernard Mausner and Barbara Bloch Snyderman when he was researching motivation in the workplace.
His first research consisted of evaluating 200 engineers and accountants from the city of Pittsburgh, collecting very sophisticated and precise data that would lead him to propose his theory of motivation that he would describe in his book, a theory which is still widely used today. .
It is worth highlighting the research method used by Herzberg, innovative for its time. This was based on the use of open-ended questions, with no preconceived ideas about what the respondents could answer. Until that moment, the normal thing was to survey by means of batteries of closed questions, of the “yes” and “no” style, not allowing the respondent to elaborate on their opinions or how they felt.
After publishing his first book, in which he exposed the principles of the theory of motivation and hygiene, Frederick Herzberg expanded it in later works, notably Work and the Nature of Man (1966)
One of the most important figures in the field of business administration, George Odiorne, invited Herzberg in 1972 to join the School of Business at the University of Utah.
This fame would materialize when in 1994 the institution created the Frederick I Chair in his honor. Herzberg for Visiting Professors and, a year later, would honor him by designating him “Cummins Engine Professor of Management.”
As the culmination of a successful academic life, Frederick Herzberg was recognized in 1995 with his book Work and the Nature of Man as one of the most influential authors in the theory and practice of business administration of the 20th century, this book being among the Top 10 most important texts in the field.
During his later years, he continued to teach and expand his ideas on motivation in the world of work, the relationship between employee and employer and how these factors influence workplace well-being.
Frederick Irving Herzberg died in Salt Lake City, Utah, on January 19, 2000 at the age of 76.
Theory of motivation and hygiene of Frederick Herzberg
Based on his discoveries, Frederick Herzberg developed a new theory, which he called the “two-factor theory”, better known as the “motivation-hygiene theory.”
According to him, there are two factors that intervene in the workplace, affecting some in a negative way and affecting the others positively, as long as they are present. He called the former factors of dissatisfaction, which is preferable if they do not occur, while the latter would be the satisfaction factors, which, ideally, is for the company to seek and strengthen them.
Factors for dissatisfaction
This is the first type of factor raised by Herzberg within his theory. Factors of dissatisfaction include those that, if present, cause discomfort in workers. In case of not manifesting in the workplace, they do not increase well-being beyond a certain point. That is, if they happen, the only thing that can be expected is that the situation will get worse, and if they are not there, nothing is expected to happen.
Some examples of factors for dissatisfaction in the workplace would include elements such as overly restrictive company policies, too much supervision, relationship problems between colleagues or with superiors, inhumane working conditions, low pay or lack of job security and stability.
In any company in which these types of factors are detected, it will be necessary to work on them and, to the extent possible, eliminate them. This is the first step, although not the only or final, to improve the motivation of workers, since eliminating the bad will make them start to feel better.
This is visible today in a simple way, since companies with greater flexibility with their workers and that offer social incentives present lower levels of dissatisfaction among their employees.
Factors for satisfaction
Once the dissatisfaction factors have been detected and eliminated, it is time to work on the satisfaction factors. These, as their name suggests, promote job satisfaction if they occur.
It should be understood that the absence of these types of factors does not cause dissatisfaction in the job, but it is difficult to get workers to be fully motivated in the workplace. Its absence does not cause discomfort, but its presence will make them feel more comfortable.
The factors for satisfaction are related to elements such as greater ease to achieve significant achievements within the company, recognition of the achievements made by workers and assessment of the tasks that have been completed. The facilities offered by the company so that its employees can advance and continue learning, making them feel constantly growing and not given as people incapable of learning anything else is also considered a satisfaction factor.
Factors for satisfaction are now considered to play an even more important role than factors for dissatisfaction. It is for this reason that people seem to increasingly prefer jobs in which their emotional and psychological well-being are taken into account before looking at the number of hours or the salary.
What should companies do?
Although Frederick Herzberg’s greatest contribution to the field of business administration management is his theory of motivation and hygiene, it is also thanks to him that it is better known what companies should do to have workers with greater emotional well-being and, consequently , work better. He had the clear intention of improving the working conditions of employees, highlighting that companies must offer more opportunities that increase their participation in management tasks, planning, evaluation and improvement of their jobs.
Herzberg stressed that superiors must reduce their control over subordinates and foster their autonomy. This makes them more aware of the performance of their work, in addition to developing greater responsibility and ensuring that their job remains afloat. This would increase the motivation among subordinates and reduce the workload of the bosses.
Another quite innovative aspect of Frederick Herzberg’s vision of how companies should function was to compartmentalize the production and service phases. That is to say, instead of having each worker take charge of only one phase of the process, they should be made a participant in all of them so that they know how the product is being developed or how the service is provided. Otherwise the worker is limited to doing his job, without knowing what has been done before or what will be done after, which could reduce quality.
Communication is essential at work. Direct and constant feedback must be provided to workers, so that they know at all times what they can improve, without focusing only on what they have not achieved or that can be improved. They should be informed about what they are doing well and how much they are valued in the organization.
- Pérez, J., Méndez, S., Jaca, M. (2010). Employee motivation: Herzberg theory. Seville, Spain: University of Seville.
- Feder, B. (2000). FI Herzberg, 76, Professor And Management Consultant. New York, United States: The New York Times.