Theory of Human Needs | Existence - Relatedness - Growth Theory | ERG Theory (Alderfer)

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Human needs that influence worker's behavior. Explanation of ERG Theory of Alderfer. ('69)


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The ERG Theory of Clayton P. Alderfer is a model that appeared in 1969 in a Psychological Review article entitled "An Empirical Test of a New Theory of Human Need". In a reaction to the famous Hierarchy of Needs by Maslow, Alderfer distinguishes three categories of human needs that influence worker's behavior; existence, relatedness and growth.

ERG TheoryThe ERG categories of human needs

These ERG Theory categories are:

  • Existence Needs: physiological and safety needs (such as hunger, thirst and sex). The first two levels of Maslow.
  • Relatedness Needs: social and external esteem (involvement with family, friends, co-workers and employers). The third and fourth levels of Maslow.
  • Growth Needs: internal esteem and self actualization (the desire to be creative, productive and to complete meaningful tasks). Maslow's fourth and fifth levels.

ERG Theory and Maslow

Contrarily to the idea by Maslow that access to the higher levels of his pyramid required satisfaction in the lower level needs, the ERG areas of Alderfer are simultaneous needs.

ERG Theory recognizes that the importance of the three categories may vary for each individual. Managers must recognize that an employee has multiple needs, that must be satisfied simultaneously. According to the ERG theory, if you focus exclusively on one need at a time, this will not effectively motivate.

The frustration-regression principle

In addition, the ERG theory acknowledges that if a higher level need remains unfulfilled, the person may regress towards lower level needs, which appear easier to satisfy. This is known as: the frustration-regression principle. This principle impacts workplace motivation. For example, if growth opportunities are not offered to the employees , they may regress towards relatedness needs, and socialize more with co-workers.

If management can recognize these conditions early, steps can be taken to satisfy the frustrated needs until the subordinate is able to pursue growth again.

Book: Clayton P. Alderfer - Existence, Relatedness, and Growth; Human Needs in Organizational Settings -

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