Maslow’s and ERG Theory of Motivation

This article will help you to make comparison between Maslow’s and ERG theory of motivation of employees.

Although the ERG theory assumes that motivated behaviour follows a hierarchy in the same fashion as suggested by Maslow, there are four major points of difference between Maslow’s theory and ERG theory. Firstly, the two theories give differing interpretation of similar need categories.

The ERG theory suggests that more than one level of needs can cause motivation at the same time. So it acknowledges that people can be motivated by a desire for money (existence), friendship (relatedness), and the opportunity to learn new skills (growth) all at once. This point is illustrated in Table 13.1.

Secondly ERG theory does not presume a strictly ordered hierarchy.

Maslow argues that “man lives by bread alone when he has no breed”, but Alderfer believes that he is still motivated somewhat by relationships with family and other primary groups. Moreover, propositions 3 and 6 listed above suggest that Alderfer’s need categories have an upward orientation, but “that do not require lower level gratification as an additional condition as Maslow’s theory does”.

Griffin has pointed out that ERG theory has a frustration-regression element that is missing from Maslow’s need hierarchy. Maslow maintained that a need must be satisfied before an individual can progress to a high need level (from safety to belongingness, for instance).

The individual, then, is motivated by those higher level needs until they are satisfied. ERG theory suggests that, if needs remain unsatisfied at this higher level, the individual will become frustrated, regress to the lower level and begin to pursue those things again. For example, a worker previously motivated by money (existence needs) may have just been awarded salary increment sufficient to satisfy those needs.

Let us suppose that he (she) will attempt to establish more friendships to satisfy relatedness needs. If, for the same reason, the employee finds it difficult, or almost impossible, to become better friends with others in the work place, he (she) eventually gets frustrated and regresses to being motivated to earn even more money.

Thirdly, Maslow argues that needs tend to cease motivating people as soon as they are satisfied. Alderfer argues that the need hierarchy operates in reverse. When an upper level need is not fulfilled, a low level need is activated. For example, people who get frustrated in romance or friendship often overeat or ‘drink’ as a substitute for relatedness.

Finally, as Alderfer himself argues:

“ERG Theory attempts to deal not only with how satisfaction by using the same set of concepts”.


In short, the E.R.G. theory is relatively new compared with Maslow’s need hierarchy. But empirical findings indicate that it may be a more valid account of motivation in organisation. And our main prediction here is that managers should not rely too heavily on any one particular perspective to guide their thinking about employee motivation. What then is the practical utility of the need hierarchy view?

The answer is simple. As Griffin has put it:

“Perhaps the key insights to be gleaved from the need hierarchy view are that some needs may be more important than others and that people may charge their behaviour after any particular set of needs has been satisfied”.

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