Alderfer’s ERG theory of motivation

A number of motivation theories have been developed over the years. Many of them are similar to one another, while other lead to different conclusions. One of the best-known theories is the one by A. Maslow, which is related to the hierarchy of needs. A slightly different approach was proposed by Clayton Alderfer, an American psychologist, who called it the ERG theory.

 The ERG theory presents a hierarchy of human needs that, according to Alderfer, is based on the following division:

  • E (existence needs) – they correspond with the physiological and safety needs in Maslow’s theory. They cover the need to provide proper living conditions for oneself and one’s family.
  • R (relatedness needs) – the need to integrate with and contact the other members of the community. It covers the need for respect and belonging in Maslow’s theory.
  • G (growth needs) – the need for development, perfecting one’s skills, broadening one’s mind. This is the equivalent of Maslow’s need for self-actualisation.


Additionally, Alderfer also divided the above needs in terms of time:

  • Occasional,
  • Short-term,
  • Long-term.

The ERG theory takes into account the process of frustration that occurs when certain needs are not satisfied. Alderfer claims that every process of satisfying the needs is also accompanied by frustration related to the fact that in satisfying one need, we are unable to satisfy another. It is also assumed that in their actions, people may try and satisfy needs falling into more than one category, i.e. that some individuals may at the same time motivate themselves with the existence, integration, and development needs. What makes the ERG theory different from Maslow’s theory is the fact that in the latter one, satisfying one need moves us onto the next level in the hierarchy. Alderfer sees this in a slightly different way – in his theory, higher-level needs may be satisfied without satisfying lower-level needs. However, this will cause frustration, which, if long-lasting, will make the individual go back to the lower-level needs and look for a way to satisfy them.

 Motivation theories allow for demonstrating and understanding employee needs. Motivating employees is a crucial element of the operations of every enterprise. Motivation theories facilitate this process. A creator of motivation programmes offered by MOTIVEO may be useful here, as it allows for an easy creation of effective motivation systems.