Alderfer's ERG Theory & Employee Motivation in the Workplace

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  • 0:05 Alderfer's ERG Theory…
  • 1:59 Motivation and Need…
  • 4:05 What Managers Need to Know
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kat Kadian-Baumeyer

Kat has a Master of Science in Organizational Leadership and Management and teaches Business courses.

Alderfer's ERG theory is a simplified version of Maslow's hierarchy of needs that suggests that all human needs can be accessed and satisfied simultaneously, rather than from the bottom up. Either way, as needs are satisfied, employees are motivated to strive to satisfy a new need.

Alderfer's ERG Theory Simplifies Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

Maslow believed that there are five basic human needs.

Out of work for some time now, Jesse was offered a position as a copy assistant at a local website, The Pressing News Online (PNO). Jesse had been the senior editor for The Pelican, a major publication, for many years when it went under.

Desperate for work, Jesse took the PNO position with the hope of being quickly promoted to editor. When Jesse accepted the position of copy assistant, what she was really doing was fulfilling Alderfer's existence need. The paycheck satisfied her physiologically - it paid for basic necessities like food, water and shelter.

Alderfer's ERG theory contends there are three basic needs an employee seeks to fulfill. As each need is fulfilled, it serves as motivation to fulfill a different need.

ERG stands for existence, relatedness and growth, and these are defined as:

  • Existence - the need for basic material existence, like physiological health and safety
  • Relatedness - the need for interpersonal connections, social status and recognition
  • Growth - the need for personal development, including creative and meaningful work

As each need is met, another need could be satisfied. In fact, at any point, several could be satisfied. Similarly, Maslow believed that there are five basic human needs:

  • Physiological needs
  • Safety needs
  • Belongingness needs
  • Status needs
  • Need for self-actualization

The difference is that Maslow believed that only one need could be satisfied at any given time. As a lower-order need is met, like getting a new job, work begins on satisfying a higher-order need, like getting a promotion.

If a lower-order need such as health is no longer satisfied, like being diagnosed with a long-term illness, the status of having a promotion is no longer important. A swift move down the hierarchy is necessary to work on satisfying the physiological need to heal.

Motivation and Need Satisfaction

Need satisfaction for both Alderfer's ERG and Maslow's hierarchy occurs from a motive to act. In fact, in the pursuit to satisfy and re-satisfy needs, motivation is the driving force.

When Jesse is not checking news stories for factual inconsistencies, she spends her time hanging around the editorial office. Her motivation is to be accepted by her colleagues. Jesse is working on a relatedness need: the need to connect with people and to feel accepted by a preferred group. For Jesse, it is the editors because she was an editor at one time.

Need satisfaction occurs from a motive to act.

She regularly combs the job boards for freelance work in top magazines and newspapers. Jesse is working on a growth need: the need to work on meaningful and creative projects.

Although Jesse is working very hard to satisfy multiple needs at once, sometimes it ends in defeat. Alderfer calls this frustration-regression. Frustration-regression is the tendency to seek to satisfy lower-order needs when higher orders are not met.

Sending writing samples didn't amount to as much as a phone call or an email. Frustrated with everything, Jesse began looking for satisfaction elsewhere. Her growth need was not being met.

Back in the copy room, Jesse found her mind wandering to a time when she had an aspiring career. It was clear that she would never move up the ladder at The Pressing News.

Jesse did what anyone else seeking to satisfy a growth need would do: search for jobs from the office. Unfortunately, leaving her resume on the office fax machine proved disastrous. She lost her job. This meant that existence needs were no longer being satisfied.

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