Motivation and emotion/Book/2022/ERG theory
What is Alderfer's ERG theory?
The ERG (Existence, Relatedness, Growth) model was created by Clayton Alderfer and was based on Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. This model stands for Existence, Relatedness and Growth. It is a three factor model based on the theory of motivation (refer to Figure 1.)
Existence: Include all material and physiological desires (e.g., food, water, air, clothing, safety, physical love and affection).
Relatedness: Encompass social and external esteem; relationships with significant others like family, friends, co-workers and employers . This also means to be recognized and feel secure as part of a group or family.
Growth: Internal esteem and self actualisation; these impel a person to make creative or productive effects on himself and the environment (e.g., to progress toward one’s ideal self).
Alderfer's ERG theory explains that individuals can be motivated by multiple levels of need at the same time, and that the level of need which is most important to them can change over time. These levels of motivation can move upwards or downwards at anytime making the individuals priorities fluid.
Similar to Maslow's Heirarchy of Needs, Alderfer's ERG theory suggests that a person has three main core groups of needs. As with life, these needs shift and change over depending on priorities and life in general.
The first level is Existence and is categorised as a physiological need, also referred to as existence need. This entails categories such as food, water, shelter, and feeling safe. If you are unable to satisfy your existence needs then you are unable to move forward and reach your higher needs. For example, if you do not have enough food and don't have access to source any, then your life is in immediate peril and sourcing food will occupy most of your thoughts, at the expense of almost all of your other needs.
The second level is Relatedness and refers to our need to relate to other people and develop relationships. While it is not a survival need, human needs good relationships and interactions in order to be happy and content.
The third level is Growth and refers to our need of personal development, to be creative and perform meaningful work. This growth allows us to explore our day to day lives to see what potential may be in our environment.
Unlike Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, Alderfer's theory allows multiple needs to be satisfied at the same time whereas Maslow's theory only allows for one level of need to be satisfied at a time. Within this theory, there are three aspects that provide an explanation to either the progress or ability to regress in reaching the three needs.
Satisfaction-Progression refers to satisfying a need and moving on to higher-level needs. If a person moves from satisfying his relatedness needs to his growth needs, it does not necessarily mean that his existence needs are satisfied.
Satisfaction strengthening refers to satisfying a current level of satisfied need again and again. This relationship suggests that a current level of need can be satisfied over and over again when the individual fails to satisfy a higher-level need.
Frustration Regression Principle proposes that if a higher level need is not satisfied, a person may regress backwards to a lower level in order to fulfil their lower needs first. For example, if an ambitious employee is not given growth opportunities or duties which utilise their knowledge and skill set, then their motivation will drop. This will result in them becoming frustrated and focusing on their relatedness goals instead, which would involve forming relationships with other colleagues and socialising with the team more.
More information can be found here Motivation and emotion/Textbook/Motivation/Self-actualisation
Applying The ERG theory to everyday scenariosEdit
The ERG theory can be applied to a variety of everyday situations including career choices, the workplace, owning a business and even in relationships.
Example: Career Choice
First step would be to think about your ecological needs (how much money do you need to pay your bills?). Second step is to think about your social skills and needs ( Are you extroverted or introverted?, what environment do you thrive in?). Lastly, you need to think about your ambitions and expectation levels ( What kind of life do you want to live?). By addressing each step in the ERG theory, this will enable you to make the best career choice to result in success based on the three main core groups of need.
Another example could consist of an actor who is motivated by growth through their art, potentially at the expense of their existence (i.e. they can’t pay their rent but are pursuing their passion).
A study from 2017 supports these examples as since job satisfaction is one of the most important aspects to organisations, managers who understand the ERG theory have a higher success rate from their employees. The results from the study indicates that highly satisfied employees will exert extra effort and positively contribute to the organisation compared to employees who are not.
Motivation based case studies
A study conducted in 2019 analysed the motivation factor under The ERG Theory. The study used university students to see what motivated them to participate during events. Using a sample size of 250 participants, quantitative approach questions were distributed to the participants online. Results indicated that between existence, growth, and relatedness, using growth as motivation was the most successful method in getting the students to participate. This is due to the students believing that the growth opportunity will improve their knowledge and skills in order to align with their career goals.
This study directly relates to the Alderfer's theory, and most specifically its reason for motivation. While a larger sample size would have been more beneficial for a wider audience, these results can be used universally.
Similarly, a 2012 study looked into job satisfaction and how to identify incentives in the workplace. This study looked into 23 articles that have contributed to the development and understanding of the ERG's theory of existence, relatedness, and growth. Their data revealed that extrinsic values are the primary influencer of human needs and thus resulted in higher job satisfaction. These results and the ERG theory have broad relevance, including sociological, psychological, and organizational as this data can be applied to most workplaces. This study supports Clayton Alderfer's theory of motivation and outline how motivation and emotion are based on human needs.
Health based case study
Published in 2021, a China study has conducted research on the impact of work value perception on employees physical and mental health through the mediating effect of life satisfaction. This study used a sample size of 16,890 in individuals in China, and focused on the links between work value perception and the growth aspect of the ERG theory. To assess the participant's physical health, the study used a self rated questionnaire using the likert scale. To record their mental health, the Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale was used. The results concluded that work value perception has an immediate effect on the physical and mental health of individuals in the study. These results supports the idea that employeesperception of their value can directly affect their health. These results can be used to not only create a more appreciative workplace culture but also be effective in motivating employees to achieve better outcomes.
In order to critically analyse the studies and their results, the collected data suggests that the ERG theory of motivation can be beneficial for a range of situations and individuals. The results indicate that growth is the largest motivator in the ERG theory, for job satisfaction and career orientated decisions. For future research, a more in-depth look into the physiological effects of this theory could be very beneficial and produce a more in-depth understanding on the human needs and their effects it has on the body.
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|Focus question answers:
It allows individuals to tap into their motivational senses and see what they need to achieve in order to reach self realisation. It can be very beneficial for workplaces and universities to understand this theory in order to help individuals not only understand what motivates them, but how they can progress in the 3 stages of the ERG theory.
The downside to this theory is that is it quite defined and doesn't allow you to stray from the set choices of needs. As existence, relatedness and growth are the only sections within, it does limit how an individual may approach this theory from a different perspective. In addition, this theory is hard to test/assess as it is difficult to establish whether a person has satisfied a need.
|Take Home Messages:
ERG theory reminds people that everyone is motivated by different things. What motivates a person depends on where they are on their personal development scale and that one size does not fit anyone. It is important to understand what you are driven and motivated by first, before you can progress.
Alderfer's ERG theory is a three factor model that is based on the theory of motivation. The first level is Existence and is categorised as a physiological need, also referred to as existence need. The second level is Relatedness and refers to our need to relate to other people and develop relationships. The third level is Growth and refers to our need of personal development, to be creative and perform meaningful work. The ERG theory explains that individuals can be motivated by multiple levels of need at the same time, and that the level of need which is most important to them can change over time. These levels of motivation can move upwards or downwards at anytime making the individuals priorities fluid.
As a person moves through the three levels of needs, there are steps to indicate why these actions have occurred. Satisfaction progression indicates that someone has satisfied a need and is moving on to higher-level needs. Satisfaction strengthening refers to satisfying a current level of satisfied need again and again until they can satisfy a higher level need. Frustration regression indicates that if a higher level need is not satisfied, a person may regress backwards to a lower level in order to fulfil their lower needs first.
While this theory was based offMaslow's Hierarchy of needs, research has determined that the ERG theory is practicable and useful in everyday situations, for example, Universities, Careers, Health issues and life satisfaction in general. Evidence from previous case studies also support the ERG theory by suggesting that growth and external motivations were most effective in job satisfaction, participation and overall motivation. While this theory may only be limited to 3 categories of motivation, the basis of needs ensures that the hierarchy is adhered to, and maintained. For future research, a more in-depth look into the physiological effects of this theory could be very beneficial and produce a more in-depth understanding on the human needs and their effects it has on the body.
- Basic social needs (Book chapter, 2011)
- Physiological needs (Book chapter, 2022)
- Psychological needs and implicit motivations (Book chapter, 2021)
- Psychological distress (Book chapter, 2022)
- Reward system, motivation, and emotion (Book chapter, 2022)
- Self-actualisation (Book chapter, 2010)
Arnolds, C. A., & Boshoff, C. (2002). Compensation, esteem valence and job performance: An empirical assessment of Alderfer’s ERG theory. The International Journal of Human Resource Management, 13(4), 697–719. https://doi.org/10.1080/09585190210125868
Caulton, J. R. (2012). The development and use of the theory of ERG: A literature review. Emerging Leadership Journeys, 5(1), 2-8.
Har, C.O. (2018). A case study of Alderfer's theory of motivation on college students volunteering in events. 1(1), 186-195. https://nfct.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/journal/published_paper/volume-3/issue-3/eJYQc2F6.pdf
Maslow, A. H. (1943). A Theory of Human Motivation. Psychological Review, 50, 370-396.
Thiagaraj, D. and Thangaswamy, A. (2017) “Theoretical concept of job satisfaction - A study,” International Journal of Research -GRANTHAALAYAH, 5(6), pp. 464–470. Available at: https://doi.org/10.29121/granthaalayah.v5.i6.2017.2057.
Wahba, A., & Bridgewell, L. (1976). Maslow reconsidered: A review of research on the need hierarchy theory. Organizational Behavior and Human Performance, 15, 212-240.
A case study of Alderfer's theory of motivation on college students volunteering in events https://nfct.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/journal/published_paper/volume-3/issue-3/eJYQc2F6.pdf
Alderfer's Theory https://www.attendancebot.com/blog/erg-theory/#Employee_Motivation_Theories