Alderfer’s ERG Theory

PSYCH-105 Industrial Psychology

Chapter 5: Motivation

Unit 1

Unit 2

Unit 3

Unit 4


Alderfer’s ERG Theory

Clayton Alderfer (1969)

Alderfer agrees with Maslow, that individual needs are arranged in a hierarchy. However, he redefined Maslow’s hierarchy of needs in his own terms. His rework is called as ERG theory of motivation. He re-categorized Maslow’s hierarchy of needs into three simpler and broader classes of needs:

  • Existence Needs – These include need for basic material necessities. In short, it includes an individual’s physiological and physical safety needs (food, water, air, pay, working conditions).
  • Relatedness needs – This need is concerned with the individuals need to maintain good interpersonal relationship with other members in his work group, getting public fame and recognition. Maslow’s social needs and external component of esteem needs fall under this class of need (meaningful social and interpersonal relationships).
  • Growth needs – These include need for self-development and personal growth and advancement. Maslow’s self-actualization needs and intrinsic component of esteem needs fall under this category of need (individual making creative or productive contributions).

The theory suggests that: 

  1. In an individual, at any point of time, more than one need may be operational at the same time. 
  2. If higher need goes unsatisfied than the desire to satisfy a lower need generally intensifies. 

The significance of the three classes of needs may vary for each individual.


Implications of the ERG Theory

Managers must understand that an employee has various needs that must be satisfied at the same time. According to the ERG theory, if the manager concentrates solely on one need at a time, this will not effectively motivate the employee.

The ERG Theory acknowledges that if a higher level need remains unfulfilled the person may regress to lower level needs that they can more easily satisfy.  This frustrates employees and impacts workplace motivation until the higher need can be fulfilled.

Advantages / Merits / Pro’s

  1. The ERG theory is more consistent with our knowledge of individual differences among people.
  2. The ERG theory conceptualizes human behaviour in more flexible terms than Maslow.
  3. ERG theory seems to take some strong points than Maslow’s theory. i.e. Alderfer makes possible to operationalize (i.e. make measurement possible) the three level of needs – existence, relatedness and growth.

Disadvantages / Limitations / Demerits / Con’s

  1. The theory does not offer clear cut guidelines.
  2. The empirical nature of this theory is still not proved.

Difference in Alderfer’s ERG Theory and Maslow’s Need Hierarchy Theory

  1. Maslow says that unfulfilled needs are predominant and that the next higher level of need isn’t activated until the predominant need is adequately satisfied. It means person progresses up the need hierarchy once his lower-level need is adequately satisfied. In contrast, Alderfer says that in addition to the satisfaction-progression process that Maslow proposed, a frustration-regression process is also at work. It means if a person is continually frustrated in attempts to satisfy growth needs, relatedness need remerge as a major motivating force or we can also say that if relatedness need is not satisfied and individual constantly frustrated in not being able to meet, he would see the re-emergence of his existence need and try to satisfy the need to eat better and live a more satisfying life style.
  2. Maslow says one need is activated at one time, i.e. no two needs activated simultaneously. Whereas Alderfer says that – more then one need might be activated at same time. It means individual might work towards fulfilling both their relatedness need and growth needs or their existence and relatedness needs simultaneously.

Author – Dr. Niyati Garg

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