Group Dynamics and the Public Sphere

Psychology in the Workplace

What was Frederick Hertzberg’s approach to motivation?

In 1959, Frederick Hertzberg (1923-2000) and colleagues published their survey of two hundred mid-level engineers and accountants in a Pennsylvania company. The subjects were asked about the high points and the low points of their work life. For high points, subjects frequently listed moments of accomplishment and recognition, increased challenge, promotion to a higher level of responsibility, and increased autonomy. For low points, subjects complained of problems with managerial and policy decisions of the company, recognition, salary, and relations with superiors.

Hertzberg interpreted these results to mean that causes of job satisfaction were intrinsic to the job (inherent within the work itself) while causes of job dissatisfaction were extrinsic (due to context). He integrated these insights into his two-factor theory of worker motivation, also known as the motivation-hygiene theory. Over the years, the study was repeated multiple times in different settings.

A consistent finding was that people attributed positive outcomes to intrinsic or internal causes (self-caused) and negative outcomes to extrinsic or external causes. In other words, we credit ourselves for our successes and blame others for our disappointments. Hertzberg’s findings have been highly influential in organizational psychology.


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