Motivational Theory in Project Management

I recently studied Frederick Hertzberg‘s article on his motivational theory, in the Harvard Business Review. The title is “One More Time: How Do You Motivate Employees?” Read it here.

I’ve heard about the theory before of course, vaguely referred to as the hygiene/motivator theory and it usually managed to earn about 1 slide in a presentation flooded with motivational theories. I was excited to read the author’s article and understand the theory in more depth. There is a lot of value in it for project managers, and I’d like to share some of my notes and thoughts.

Satisfaction and dissatisfaction are NOT two sides of the same coin

  • Job satisfaction does NOT result in motivation
  • Job satisfaction and job dissatisfaction are not opposites of each other
  • Job satisfaction and job dissatisfaction are separate issues and need to be investigated separately.
  • The opposite of job satisfaction is no job satisfaction, or ‘the absence of job satisfaction’
  • The opposite of job dissatisfaction is no job dissatisfaction, or ‘the absence of job dissatisfaction’

Hygiene factors: dissatisfaction avoidance: EXTRINSIC to the job (primary causes of dissatisfaction)

  • Company policy and administration (policy constraints)
  • Supervision
  • Interpersonal relationships
  • Working conditions
  • Salary
  • Status
  • Security

Motivator factors: to experience psychological growth: INTRINSIC to the job (primary causes of satisfaction and true motivation)

  • Achievement
  • Recognition for achievement
  • The work itself
  • Responsibility
  • Growth or advancement

The biggest takeaways for me were:

  • The clear distinction between satisfaction and dissatisfaction as two divorced entities
  • My agreement that hygiene factors do NOT contribute to motivation
  • One or more of the motivator factors needs to be present for everyone on a project team in order for those team members to truly be self-motivated.
  • Motivated project team members will take their piece of the puzzle and make it great.
  • Unmotivated project team members will require extensive supervision and time from the project manager. These people may not be dissatisfied, just not satisfied (or unmotivated). Again, there is a big difference between dissatisfied and not satisfied.
  • Confirmation of my experiences in 8 years of managing people and working on project teams.
    Specifically wage increases and working conditions changes do not motivate people, they are only hygiene factors that keep them from being dissatisfied. When you elevate hygiene factors in an unnatural way in an attempt to motivate, all it does is raise the minimum level required of that factor to avoid dissatisfaction. Raises tied to achievement and recognition can have a positive motivational impact if that correlation is transparent and obvious.

How do you motivate your project teams?

About the author

JoshNankivel Josh Nankivel is a Project Planning & Controls Control Account Manager and contractor for the ground system of the Landsat Data Continuity Mission, a joint project between the USGS and NASA. His academic background includes a BS in Project Management, summa cum laude.  He can be found writing and contributing in many places within the project management community, and his primary project management website is located at


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top