What Is a Hygiene Factor?

by Casey Kanen; Updated September 26, 2017
Smiling businesswoman at meeting

The term hygiene factor is a term widely used in the field of business management. It is related to the study of motivation and job satisfaction in the workplace. Although coined several decades ago, hygiene factors remain part of an integral management theory still used today.


The term hygiene factor was coined by Fredrick Herzberg in the 1950s. Herzberg was a management theorist who studied factors affecting job satisfaction in the workplace. Herzberg conducted a study near Pittsburg, Pennsylvania that incorporated several interviews with engineers and accountants. During the interviews, Herzberg asked the engineers and accountants to identify certain sequences of events that affected their job satisfaction, whether positively or negatively. Herzberg then divided these sequences, which he called “thought units,” into two main categories: motivation factors and hygiene factors.


Factors that affected job satisfaction in a positive manner are classified as motivation factors. These include achievement, recognition, responsibility and advancement. Factors that affected job satisfaction in a negative manner are classified as hygiene factors. These include working conditions, company policies, relations with coworkers and pay.

Hierarchy of Needs

Herzberg’s theories on hygiene factors correlated with those of another significant management theorist, known as Abraham Maslow. Abraham Maslow created what is known as the Hierarchy of Needs, several factors that he believed most affected job motivation. The Hierarchy of Needs is divided into five tiers: physiological needs, social needs, safety needs, esteem needs, and self-actualization. Those that comprise the bottom three tiers (physiological needs, social needs, and safety needs) are classified as hygiene factors.


According to Herzberg, “motivation factors are related to what people do on the job while hygiene factors are related to the context or environment in which they do their job.” As a result, hygiene factors do not necessarily increase job satisfaction. Hygiene factors are more concerned with the state of the workplace than those who work in it. They are important, but not necessarily imperative, to maintaining an employee’s desire to continue working.


Managers and businessmen alike utilize Herzberg’s theory on motivation factors and hygiene factors to evaluate performance in the workplace. In order to create an optimum workplace, managers ensure that hygiene factors such as security and cleanliness are present. They then attempt to increase the level of positive motivation factors, such as employee recognition. If employee motivation is low, a good manager will attempt to increase motivation factors instead of hygiene factors. For example, a good manager will attempt to increase his employee's sense of achievement before his employee's pay rate.

About the Author

Casey Kanen is a musician who enjoys writing in his spare time. He is a graduate of George Fox University who enjoys writing about modern-day Christianity, pop culture and the media. He has written and performed for multiple churches, summer camps, youth groups and the parent council at George Fox University. He lives in Newberg, Oregon.

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