ERG Theory of Motivation by Clayton Alderfer

ERG Theory of Motivation - Toolshero

ERG Theory of Motivation: this article explains the ERG Theory of Motivation by Clayton Alderfer in a practical way. The article starts with a general definition, followed by an elaboration of the three levels of motivation. It is also described how people’s motivation can regress instead of progress. Enjoy reading!

What is Alderfer’s ERG Theory of Motivation?

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.

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What is the ERG theory?

The five human needs described in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, have been reduced to three levels by Clayton Alderfer: Existence Needs, Relatedness Needs and Growth Needs.

Hence, the Alderfer’s ERG Theory of Motivation:

ERG theory by Clayton Alderfer - toolshero

Figure 1 – ERG Theory by Alderfer

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.


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.

ERG Theory of Motivation and regression

Within this 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.

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It’s Your Turn

What do you think? Do you recognize the practical explanation about the ERG theory or do you have more additions? Is this motivation theory still applicable in today’s world? What tips can you give on motivation and the practical explanation about the ERG theory?

Share your experience and knowledge in the comments box below.

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.

How to cite this article:
Mulder, P. (2013). ERG Theory of Motivation (Alderfer). Retrieved [insert date] from Toolshero:

Original publication date: 11/19/2014 | Last update: 02/26/2024

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Patty Mulder
Article by:

Patty Mulder

Patty Mulder is an Dutch expert on Management Skills, Personal Effectiveness and Business Communication. She is also a Content writer, Business Coach and Company Trainer and lives in the Netherlands (Europe).
Note: all her articles are written in Dutch and we translated her articles to English!


2 responses to “ERG Theory of Motivation by Clayton Alderfer”

  1. Erlan says:

    A visão dele foi um forte alicerce,pra época em que a indústrias investiam,no avanço e desenvolvimento econômico.

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