ERG Theory of Motivation: What Is It? and How Does It Work?

Clayton Alderfer’s ERG theory of motivation from 1969 converges Maslow’s five human needs into three categories: Existence, Relatedness, and Growth.

  1. Existence Needs: This need includes basic survival and physiological needs like air, water, clothing, safety, intimacy, and affection. This equates to Maslow’s first two levels.
  2. Relatedness Needs: This need encompasses social and external esteem, and relationships with family, friends, coworkers, and employers. This need recognizes the human need to be seen as a part of a group or family. This equates to Maslow’s third and fourth levels of the motivation pyramid.
  3. Growth Needs: Growth needs account for Maslow’s internal esteem and self-actualization needs. This means to make a person creative and productive. In a nutshell, this need helps to person to do meaningful tasks.

The needs differ from person to person. ERG’s theory of motivation focuses on terms of concreteness of categories.

Existence needs have the strongest foundation and are easy to verify while relatedness needs are less concrete than existence needs. The concreteness depends on the relation between two or more people.

At last, growth needs are least concrete in specific objectives depending on the uniqueness of each person.

The satisfaction of need for the ERG theory of motivation and Maslow’s hierarchy occurs from motive to act. This means the pursuit of satisfaction. The motivation here is the driving force.

For example: When Rahul is not fact-checking stories, he spends time doing social activities and also hangs around the editor’s office. His motivation is to be accepted by his coworkers. He is working on relatedness needs.

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This is the need to connect with people and to be accepted by the preferred group. For Rahul, it is to be accepted by the editors’ group and to be socially accepted by the other hand. The need for satisfaction comes from the motivation to act.

Relationships between Alderfer’s ERG theory concepts

There are three relationships among the different categories in Alderfer’s ERG theory:

  • Satisfaction- Progression

This means moving into higher satisfaction needs after achieving one. For Maslow, satisfaction-progression played a very critical role.

As an individual, one always has to motivate himself to move up the need hierarchy due to satisfy lower-order needs.

The progression upward from relatedness satisfaction does not already assume the need for satisfaction from existing needs.

  • Frustration-regression

If higher needs that a person vies to achieve go unfulfilled, the individual might regress to lower-level needs that may appear easier to satisfy and achieve.

Frustration-regression means that already satisfied needs can become active when the higher needs cannot be satisfied.

Thus, if a person is frustrated and cannot progress to satisfy his higher needs, relatedness needs can resurface as key motivators.

  • Satisfaction-strengthening

This is strengthening already satisfied needs. The current needs can be satisfied through various iterations of it.

This concept means that already satisfied needs can still create satisfaction and strengthen lower needs iteratively. Strengthening becomes helpful when higher-level needs cannot be achieved.

Differences between ERG theory and Maslow’s model

ERG’s theory of motivation differs from Maslow’s theory of motivation hierarchy in the following ways :

  1. The lower need does not need to be satisfied that means if the person satisfies the needs at hand, does not take into consideration the satisfaction of a previous need.
  2. If the relatively significant need is not satisfied, the ability and motivation to gratify a lesser need increase. This incurs frustration in meeting high-order needs which might lead a person to regress to a more concrete need category.
  3. ERG’s theory of motivation allows the order of the needs to differ for different people. This means that it accounts for a starving artist who places growth needs above existing ones.
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The ERG motivation theory work in situations

In the battle of people which means the workplace, the managers must recognize the various needs of the employees.

As per the ERG theory of motivation, the focus shall be on one need at a time that may not motivate the people. This approach of frustration-regression impacts workplace motivation.

Growth opportunities must be provided to employees. If they are not provided, they may regress to relatedness needs which is not good for the overall zeal and enthusiasm for the workplace.

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

Financial incentives in ERG theory of motivation

Financial incentives satisfy the need for growth and recognition by others. This will fulfill human needs indirectly, through perceived value and effect on other values.

So, Hence, as per the ERG theory of motivation, financial incentives can be provided as a measure if people’s needs are not met. This works in case of distress.