ERG Theory of motivation is a theory that describes how individuals are motivated by the three needs existence, relatedness, and growth. It states that these are the basic three needs and as soon as one is satisfied individuals become motivated to fulfill the other needs.
ERG Theory of motivation was developed by American psychologist Clayton Paul Alderfer between the 1960s and 1970s. The theory categorically explains that every employee in an organization will try to satisfy all of the three needs simultaneously with one need at a time to feel motivated.
What does the ERG Theory mean?
The ERG theory of motivation is about fulfilling a need at a time. The hierarchy of needs is existence, relatedness, and growth and this is explained as
1. Existence (E)
Existence needs in Alderfer’s ERG Theory of motivation refer to the basic physical safety needs and psychological needs of survival. This category of existence needs includes feeling safe, good health, water, food, and shelter. The existence needs state that if a person cannot satisfy these basic material necessities needs then he can’t put his onus on any other higher-level need.
For example, if an individual is hungry then his sole purpose will be to satisfy his hunger even at the expense of any other important need. The thoughts of food will be his primary concern and once it is satisfied only then he will be able to go to the next needs
2. Relatedness (R)
Relatedness needs refer to social needs and interpersonal relationships. This category explains the human tendency to relate with other people through interactions and relationships and getting recognition and fame. It states that people need to have positive interactions with family, friends, peers, and superiors to feel happy and satisfied in life. Relatedness needs are the second need in Alderfer’s ERG Theory of motivation and not considered as strong as the survival or existence needs.
3. Growth (G)
Growth needs in Alderfer’s ERG Theory of motivation are the same as esteem and self-actualization needs by Maslow’s Theory. It refers to the human desire for self-development, advancement, and personal growth. Growth needs explain that people have to perform meaningful work and be creative to explore their potential because only then can they fulfill their needs for growth. In an organization, if employees are doing repetitive work then they will lack motivation but if the job is interesting and challenging they will be motivated by various growth opportunities.
Alderfer’s ERG Theory of motivation explains the Frustration-Regression Principle and how it works. The theory explains the relationship between frustration regression and states that when a person is unable to achieve higher-level needs then he might regress and try to fulfill lower-level needs.
For example, if an employee does not find growth opportunities in his organization then he will not be motivated and with time become frustrated. This will force him to fulfill relatedness needs for example he might start having more interactions with other team members. If the person is unable to satisfy even his relatedness needs then he will try to satisfy Existence needs. Thus as his frustration level increases, he will be more regressed.
What is the difference between Maslow and ERG Theory?
ERG Theory of motivation by American psychologist Alderfer is inspired by Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and has various points of similarities as well as differences. Today we are going to look at the differences between the two theories.
One Need vs Multiple Needs
- Alderfer’s ERG Theory of motivation states that human needs can be satisfied one at a time whereas Maslow’s hierarchy of needs states that needs can be satisfied at multiple levels at the same time
Higher-Level Needs vs Lower-Level Needs
- ERG Theory by Clayton Paul Alderfer states that if a higher-level need is not satisfied then the desire to satisfy a lower-level need increases whereas Maslow’s Theory states that an individual will remain at a specific need level until his need is satisfied
Flexibility vs Rigid
- ERG Theory of motivation by Alderfer is flexible where needs are perceived as a range and not placed in hierarchy whereas Need Hierarchy Theory by Maslow is rigid as the needs have to follow a specific hierarchical order
Managerial Implications of ERG Theory
Let us find out the managerial implications of the ERG Theory of motivation by Alderfer and how it applies to a workplace within an organization
Managers must promote all the elements of ERG Theory simultaneously to boost the levels of motivation in the employees. If the focus point is limited to one or two aspects the level of motivation will be at a low level. The whole point is to motivate the team members and avoid a scenario where the Frustration and Regression Principle starts to set in.
Employees will be happy only when their basic needs are satisfied. Safety is a basic need of an employee and if he does not feel safe in his workplace then he will not be able to concentrate on his work.
Every human being wants to have smooth relationships and if an employee is unable to connect with his co-workers, peers or superiors in the workplace it will negatively impact his work performance levels. The Frustration-Regression Principle then will set in and he will try to leave the workplace as early as possible to have a more positive relationship with his family.
Every employee needs to find growth opportunities as it will motivate him to do better. Suppose an employee has been working in the same position at the same salary for a few years then the position and work will not motivate him to go the extra mile. But if he is being praised for hard work and gets recognition for the same then it will motivate him to make extra efforts.
Here is a video by Marketing91 on ERG Theory.
ERG Theory of motivation by Alderfer is a simple, flexible, and condensed version of Maslow’s Theory. This relatable and clear theory can help the management to look at individual priorities and plan employee strategies accordingly. This will work in favor of an organization as it will result in better employee engagement and higher employee retention.
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