ERG theory

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ERG theory - ToolsHero

This article explains the ERG theory by Clayton Alderfer in a practical way. After reading you will understand the basics of this powerful motivation theory.

Introduction

Many academics have examined various theories with respect to satisfying needs and motivation.

The American psychologist Clayton Alderfer has taken Maslow ’s Hierarchy of Needs as a basis and has expanded on this in the ERG Theory.

Contrary to Abraham Maslow ’s reasoning, Clayton Alderfer thinks that it is possible for people to regress down to a lower level even though their needs in this level have been satisfied before.

From this level people can climb to a higher level again.

What is the ERG theory?

The five human needs described in Maslow’s hierarchy, have been reduced to three levels by Clayton Alderfer: Existence Needs, Relatedness Needs and Growth Needs. Hence, the ERG theory:

ERG theory by Clayton Alderfer - ToolsHero

Existence Needs

According to Clayton Alderfer, “Existence Needs” are survival needs that correspond with Abraham Maslow’s  physiological and safety needs. To exist, every individual needs extrinsic values such as food, drink, warmth and love. Clayton Alderfer thinks these “Existence Needs” are obvious and that they form the basis for human existence.

Relatedness Needs

The “Relatedness Needs” focus on relatedness needs. Humans are social animals and need appreciation from the people directly involved in their lives such as family, friends, colleagues and employers. The “Relatedness Needs” relate with Abraham Maslow’s social needs and external self-esteem needs. Interpersonal relationships are important for a person’s social status and interaction with other people.

Growth Needs

With “Growth Needs”, Clayton Alderfer focuses on the need of people to grown and develop themselves. The “Growth Needs” correspond with the fifth level of Maslow ’s Hierarchy of Needs that correspond with self-actualization needs. For the inner self-esteem it is important for people to grow as a person.

Simultaneous

Contrary to Maslow’s theory, according to Clayton Alderfer ‘s ERG theory, different needs categories can be satisfied simultaneously. Therefore, the necessary order as proposed by Abraham Maslow no longer applies. When managers motivate their employees, they their employees’ various needs into account and they should satisfy these simultaneously.

Regression

Within de ERG theory, Clayton Alderfer describes a frustration-regression hypothesis. Except for growth (progression), people can indeed regress  down (regression) to a lower needs category that has been largely satisfied. When someone’s needs in a higher category cannot be satisfied, Clayton Alderfer claims that they will focus on related needs in a lower needs category. If they cannot realize the “Growth Needs” by means of self-enrichment, this person will do anything to satisfy their “Relatedness Needs”. They will fully devote themselves to establishing their relationships with people in their environment.

More information

  1. Alderfer, C. P. (1969). An empirical test of a new theory of human needs. Organizational behavior and human performance, 4(2), 142-175.
  2. Alderfer, C. P. (1977). A critique of Salancik and Pfeffer’s examination of need-satisfaction theories. Administrative Science Quarterly, 658-669.
  3. Ivancevich, J. M., Matteson, M. T., & Konopaske, R. (1990). Organizational behavior and management. Bpi/Irwin.
  4. Schneider, B., & Alderfer, C. P. (1973). Three studies of measures of need satisfaction in organizations. Administrative Science Quarterly, 489-505.

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