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Validation of Maslow‘s and Herzberg‘s theories

“Although Maslow‘s and Herzberg‘s theories were intuitively appealing to many people, research has not supported either theory to any great extent”. Gehart and Rynes (2003). Elaborate.

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angel profile image
Angel Paudel

Maslow’s theory stated that humans are motivated by five essential needs structured in pyramid. He called it ‘hierarchy of needs’ and ordered it as basic/physical need followed on by security needs, social needs, self-esteem need and finally self-fulfillment at the top of the pyramid (Gherman, 2012). He stressed that one can only move to the next step once the need at the previous stage is fulfilled which attracted a lot of debate and controversies.

On the other hand, Herzberg’s theory lists ‘Satisfiers’ and ‘Hygiene factors’ as motivators and recognizes that the motivation comes in from within instead of outside individual (Armstrong, 2014). The method of research purposed by the theory is criticized along with the argument that the theory doesn’t provide a motivator any motivational factors.

Gerhart and Rynes started an argument criticizing the extensive interviews with highly intelligent people as per Maslow’s theory and critical incidents along with storytelling in Herzberg’s theory. They went on to say that even though Maslow’s and Herzberg’s theory appeared to be appealing to people initially, neither of those theory is supported by research (Gerhart & Ryenes, 2003).

The major problem with Maslow’s hierarchy-of-needs theory is that there’s no way to precisely measure how satisfied a certain level must be before moving on to the next tire in the pyramid or for the next level to be active. There’s no way to test the theory empirically either. The model is simplistic as a single product can satisfy multiple needs at once. Also, needs differ from one person to another and certainly differ from a culture to another and the assumptions made by the theory may be restricted to Western cultures. An example to disregard Maslow’s hierarchy could be one of J. K. Rowling, the famous writer for Harry Porter. She suffered a lot of hardship and struggle in life coming from a poor family but didn’t follow the stages as stated in the pyramid. She hardly had food to eat and house to live in but someone got to some stage of self-actualization which Maslow’s considers can only be completed once all the other stages are complete in some way.

Herzberg’s theory of motivation or the two factor theory lacks the understanding of some of the motivators. For example, a certain person may be promoted to a very high level position within the organization but isn’t provided much role to perform. In this case, even though the position is high enough, chances are the person won’t be satisfied with the level of responsibilities. This raises a question mark over job recognition being an internal motivator value for an individual.

In conclusion, even though Maslow’s and Herzberg’s theories were intuitively appealing to many people initially and still widely used in different business literature and situations, they also come with criticism as being unjustified interference. Neither of these theory being supported by research further pushes it back and brings question mark on it being able to improve productivity.


Armstrong, L. A. (2014). A Handbook of Human Resource Management Practice, 13th Edition. Kogan Page Limited.

Gerhart, B., & Rynes, S. (2003). Compensation: Theory, Evidence, and Strategic Implications . Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Gherman, C. (2012). Maslow Pyranid – Possible Interpretation. International Journal Of Learning And Development , 2 (1).

dipadhungana profile image

Motivation is the process that account for an individual’s intensity, direction and persistence of effort towards attaining a goal. Motivation is subjective and differs from person to person (Armstrong, 2012). However at times different theories have been proposed about motivation. Maslow’s and Herzberg’s theories are two of the early theories of motivation.

Maslow’s Need Hierarchy Theory

Abraham Maslow proposed this theory in 1943. This theory comprises a five-tier of human needs depicted as hierarchical level within a pyramid. According to this theory, human beings are motivated by a hierarchy of needs. He has categorized the human needs as physiological, safety, social, esteem and self-actualization need. The physiological need is considered the lowest level of need and self-actualization is considered the highest level need. Once the lower level needs are met, people will move to the higher level needs in the hierarchy. That is upon the fulfillment of physiological need, people will move towards safety need. Once the safety need is met, they will move to social need and the process goes on till the self-actualization need is met (Armstrong, 2012).

Herzberg’s Two-Factor Theory

This theory was proposed by Frederick Herzberg in 1959. According to this theory, there are two types of factors in any workplace: one that results in satisfaction and the other that prevents from dissatisfaction. These factors are divided as hygiene factors and motivational factors. Hygiene factors are the factors that surrounds the job and motivators are concerned with the job itself. As per this theory, workers may be demotivated in the absence of hygiene factors (pay, working condition, relationships at workplace etc.) but their presence may not motivate them. On the other hand, the motivational factors (more responsibility, challenging work, appraisal etc.) will motivate the employees (Armstrong, 2012).

Although these theories were appealing to many people, research has not supported either theory to any great extent (Gerhart & Rynes, 2003). So these days they are not as relevant as they were in the past.

Maslow has provided no empirical substantiation and several studies found no evidences to support the theory. There is lack of hierarchical structure of needs as suggested by Maslow. The attempt to meet the needs may not follow the hierarchy or sometimes overlap each other. For example a person may be deprived of physical needs but strive for self-actualization or person may want security and social need at the same time. Sometimes people are not aware about their own needs and the measurement of satisfaction of need is not possible which complicates the theory. It is not necessary that people are motivated by the unfulfilled needs and it is difficult to maintain the direct relationship between needs and behavior of people as suggested by this theory.

The methodology is limited as Herzberg’s theory is based on self-reports and the reliability of the theory is questionable (Armstrong, 2012). Though the theory has classified the organizational factors into hygiene and motivational factors, there are some factors that cannot be clearly classified as one of these. The individual differences affect the impact of these factors so it cannot be generalized. Since this theory is derived based on the response of engineers and accountants, it is not conclusive. Herzberg’s theory has given more importance to the job enrichment that job satisfaction.

Armstrong, M. (2012). Armstrong’s Handbook of Human Resource Management Practices. London.

Gerhart, B., & Rynes, S. L. (2003). Compensation: Theory, Evidence and Strategic Implications. London: Sage Publications.

susham profile image

The definition of motivation starts with the root word, motive. In Webster’s Dictionary motive is defined as, something that causes a person to act. Therefore, motivation can be defined as, the act of providing motive that causes someone to act (Shanks). In other words, according to Nancy Shanks, motivation causes someone to act and someone else cannot make someone motivated. It is the discretion of the person to decide if they are going to be motivated or not. Motivated and unmotivated are not opposites, but instead, there are determining factors that could cause someone to be unmotivated, such as life events and attitudes towards a specific job (Burton, 2012).

Theories of Motivation
There are many theories that try to explain motivation. We will be discussing on two theories.

  1. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
  2. Herzberg’s two factor theory

Maslow’s hierarchy of need
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is portrayed in the shape of a pyramid with the most fundamental needs at the bottom while the need of self-actualization at the top.

After the fulfilment of basic needs like food and shelter, people would seek for needs in the upper layers. According to him if people grew in an environment in which their needs are not met, they will be unlikely to function as healthy individuals or well-adjusted individuals (Kaur, 2013). Right at the top is self-fulfilment, the area for innovation, challenge and creativity. Maslow describes self-actualization as a person’s need to be and do that which the person was “born to do.” “A musician must make music, an artist must paint, and a poet must write.” These needs make themselves felt in signs of restlessness. The person feels on edge, tense, lacking something, in short, restless. If a person is hungry, unsafe, not loved or accepted, or lacking self-esteem, it is very easy to know what the person is restless about. However, it is not always clear what a person wants when there is a need for self-actualization (Jerome, 2013).

Herzberg’s two factor theory
Psychologist developed a theory namely, “The two-factor theory” that states that there are certain factors in the workplace that causes job satisfaction while a separate set of factors cause dissatisfaction. He theorised that job satisfaction and job dissatisfaction act independently of each other ( Herzberg, Mausner, & Snyderman, 1959).

The two-factor theory developed from data collected by Herzberg from interviews with 203 engineers and accountants in the Pittsburgh area, chosen because of their professions’ growing importance in the business world. He concluded that such factors as salary, working condition, interpersonal relation are company policy, supervision, and interpersonal relation, are rather hygiene factors than motivation. An organization was bound to fulfil these needs in order for anyone to work in the company and motivation was something beyond these needs.

Regarding dissatisfaction, it could be minimized with the improvement in hygiene factors but were not dependent on motivation alone. Hertzberg believed that fulfilment in the workplace is what truly motivates an employee. And, extrinsic motivation like increase in pay would not last long (Armstrong, 2003).

Even though Maslow’s and Herzberg theories are widely used and popular around the globe, they lack adequate research to support their theory (Gerhart & Rynes, 2003).

A 1981 study looked at how Maslow’s hierarchy might vary across age groups. A survey asked participants of varying ages to rate a set number of statements from most important to least important. The researchers found that children had higher physical need scores than the other groups, the love need emerged from childhood to young adulthood, the esteem need was highest among the adolescent group, young adults had the highest self-actualization level, and old age had the highest level of security, it was needed across all levels comparably. The authors argued that this suggested Maslow’s hierarchy may be limited as a theory for developmental sequence since the sequence of the love need and the self-esteem need should be reversed according to age (Goebel & Brown, 1981). Along with that, it is also criticized as the theory suggests that one has to steadily move up the hierarchy and cannot skip any steps. In the study of managers in two companies it was founded that there is a little evidence that support that hierarchy of needs existed (Kaur, 2013).
Likewise, Herzberg’s two factory theory has been criticized for being too focused on satisfaction and dissatisfaction than individual performance. Although Hygiene factor is well regarded, satisfaction and dissatisfaction are no longer considered on separate scales. Herzberg failed to differentiate between individuals in context of jobs. The two-factor theory has been criticized for not allowing for individual differences, such as particular personality traits which would affect individual’s unique responses to motivating or hygiene factors (Hackman & Oldham, 1976). The research was conducted on engineers and accountants. These jobs were regarded with high value in the time when this experiment took place. In current scenario, if the same experiment takes place, the result can be drastically different due to the rapid increment in the number of engineers and accountants.


Herzberg, F., Mausner, B., & Snyderman, B. B. (1959). The motivation to work. New York: John Wiley.
Armstrong, M. (2003). A Handbook of management techniques. London: Kogan Page limited.

Burton, K. (2012). A Study of Motivation: How to get your employees moving. 6.

Gerhart, B., & Rynes, S. (2003). Journal of International Organizational Maganement. The importance of pay in employee motivation: Discrepancies between what people say and what they do, 229-367.

Goebel, B., & Brown, D. (1981). Development Psychology. Age differences in motivation related to Maslow’s need Hierarchy, 809-815.

Hackman, J., & Oldham, G. (1976). Organizational Behavior and Human Performance. Motivating through design of work: Test of theory, 250-279.

Jerome, D. N. (2013). International Journal of Business and Management Invention. Application of the

Maslow’s hierarchy of need theory; impacts and implications on organizational culture, human resource and employee’s performance, 39-45.

Kaur, A. (2013). Global Journal of Management and Business Studies. Maslow’s Need Hierarchy Theory: Applications and Criticisms, 1061-1064.

Shanks, N. H. (n.d.). Management and Motivation. Jones and Bartlett.

shantamilan profile image

Abraham Harold Maslow was an American Psychology professor who contributed the renowned hierarchy of needs theory. In the theory Maslow gives five progressive stages of a humans motivation derived from needs. He explains that after the completion of one need the person can only be motivated by the next stage and the next until they reach self-actualization. The needs have been explained as

  1. Physiological needs: This need is derived from the basic human requirement such as food, shelter, air, water, sex and sleep. After attaining all of these the next motivating factor would be safety.

  2. Safety: People are motivated by safety. A safety from natural elements, social security, job security and security from things derived from fear.

  3. Love/belonging: After safety comes the need for being loved and a sense of belonging in family, friends, work group and love.

  4. Esteem: The next step of need for motivation would be the need of respect and status for the achievement they have collected.

  5. Self-Actualization: The last stage would be self-actualization where all the previous needs dissipate and focused on self-improvement.

This was later changed to self-transcendence where the person starts doing well for humanity/society and religious works.

The theory has been criticized over time by many academics. One of the criticism face is that the hierarchy of needs does not have any scientific study and the hierarchy may not be true. Some may overlap and people may be motivated by two level at the same time.

Aside from this there have also been criticism that the theory is more relevant to western and does not necessary articulate the need for all. Bouzenita, A. I., & Boulanouar, A. W. (2016)

Frederick Irvin Herzberg was another American psychologist who proposed a similar theory as that of Maslow. His theory called the Herzberg’s two-factor sees Maslow’s theories into two parts i.e. Extrinsic Motivators (Hyginene Factor) and Intrinsic Motivator (Motivation factor). He explains the extrinsic motivator as tangible factors such as those mentioned in the preliminary need in Maslow’s theory like air, water, food, shelter etc. The other model is the intrinsic motivator which talks about the non-tangible factors which can also be found in the Maslow’s need theory in the upper level. He uses these two factors to explain about job satisfaction and job dissatisfaction.

According to Herzberg theory the extrinsic motivators that contains things such as money is already there to be received and thus does not motivate a lot but the absence of which will surely cause dissatisfaction. On the other hand the intrinsic motivating factors such as challenging tasks or feeling of helping another helps motivate the worker more. The job enriching part should be focused more when motivating people. The two model are not correlated meaning the increase of one does not decrease another and opposite of satisfaction is not dissatisfaction but no satisfaction.

However this theory is not without criticism.

The research method has been criticized because no attempt was made to measure the relationship between satisfaction and performance. Instead a lot of wide and unwarranted inferences have been drawn from small and specialized samples and that there is no evidence to suggest that the satisfiers do improve productivity. (Armstrong, 2012)


Bouzenita, A. I., & Boulanouar, A. W. (2016). Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: An islamic critique. Intellectual Discourse, 24 (1), 59-81. Retrieved from search.proquest.com/docview/181550...