Alderfer’s ERG Theory

Understanding Alderfer’s ERG Theory

ERG theory is a needs-based theory of motivation propounded by Clayton AlderferOpens in new window in the late 1960s. ERG stands for the three core needs—existence, relatedness, and growth—understood to influence human behavior.

Alderfer’s ERG theory represents an expansion and refinement of Abraham Maslow’sOpens in new window Hierarchy of NeedsOpens in new window theory. According to the ERG theory, people are motivated by existence needs, relatedness needs, and growth needs. Example items of these needs are shown in the table below.

Groups of Core Needs
Alderfer's NeedsConcerned WithSimilarity to Maslow's Needs
ExistenceBasic material needs for existence(Physical + Safety) Needs
RelatednessDesire to maintain interpersonal relationsSocial Needs
GrowthIntrinsic desire for self development, creativity, growth & competence(Esteem + SA) Needs
  1. Existences Needs

    Existence needs refer to fundamental physical aspects a person desires in order to achieve wellbeing. These include both physiological material attachments required for well-being, such as pay, benefits, safety, and security.

  2. Relatedness Needs

    Relatedness needs reflect the extent to which an individual desires healthy, meaningful relationship with people considered by this individual to be important or significant.

  3. Growth Needs

    Growth needs denote the desire a person has to make a meaningful contribution in what they do: to feel involved, to accomplish goals of consequence, and to personally develop, improve and become more creative.

These needs categories are similar to the ones found in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

Alderfer intended his categories to be a refinement of Maslow’s needs sets by eliminating what he viewed as problems in Maslow’s theory with overlapping needs and by aligning these categorizations more closely to empirical research on human needs.

According to ERG theory, needs may manifest in the form of complex or compound needs comprising multiple-needs categories. For example, a person might desire to be named as project manager, which could result in increased pay (existence need), an opportunity to build different relationships with colleagues (relatedness need), and the chance to develop leadership skills (growth need).

ERG theory is based upon two key elements: desire and satisfaction. And as such, it is intended to both explain and predict the outcomes of interactions between satisfaction and desire in relation to human needs. Desire corresponds to the notions of want, preference, and the strength of such wants and preferences. Satisfaction is likened to fulfillment.

The theory describes how desire and satisfaction each affects the other. A person may desire any or all of the three needs categories at any given time. Satisfaction in one category influences the extent to which the person attends to other needs categories.