Maslow's Theory versus ERG

Management can use theories of motivation to guide employee behavior.
Image Credit: Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images

Employee motivation is one of the key aspects of a successful business. Mindful of this truth, American psychologist Abraham Maslow developed a theory of human motivation that included five basic needs that are arranged in a hierarchy, with some needs being more basic and primitive than others. Maslow's hierarchy of needs is often depicted as a five-level pyramid, with the highest need at the top, and the lowest need at the bottom. Maslow's theory was further explored and refined by Clayton P. Alderfer, who developed the ERG theory that categorized human motivation based on existence, relatedness, and growth. Both theories share some similarities, but there are also some important differences.


Maslow’s Theory

Maslow's five-level pyramid of motivation includes these categories: physical, security, social, ego, and self-actualization, each in ascending order. Physical needs include the need for air, water, food, and rest. Security includes the need for safety, shelter, and stability. Social needs include the need for love, belonging, and inclusion. Ego needs include the need for self-esteem and recognition, and at the top of the pyramid, is self-actualization, which includes the need for development, and creativity. Maslow believes that these needs are satisfied in ascending order, progressing from the most basic to the most complex.

Video of the Day

ERG Theory

Alderfer's theory only has three levels: existence, relatedness, and growth. Under existence, people have the basic need for survival and shelter. In an employment context, this need is met by earning money to pay for food and housing. Relatedness refers to the need to form social interactions with other people, including work peers and supervisors. The third need is growth, which refers to the desire people have to build self-confidence and self-worth through achievement. In employment terms, people can achieve growth by learning new skills and earning promotions that increase personal satisfaction.


The Similarities Between Maslow’s Theory and the ERG Theory

Maslow's theory and the ERG theory both seek to explain human motivation and how it affects behavior. Both theories are rooted in the idea that there are basic needs that drive people to do certain things and to behave in certain ways. Another similarity is that both theories have a hierarchical framework, with primitive needs at the bottom, and more refined needs at the top.


The Differences Between Maslow’s Theory and the ERG Theory

One of the primary differences between these two theories is that Maslow's theory has five ascending levels, and the ERG theory only has three levels. In fact, in the ERG theory, existence equates to Maslow's first two levels of physical and security needs, relatedness equates to Maslow's next two levels of social needs and ego needs, and growth equates to Maslow's final level of self-actualization.


Another difference is that Maslow believes each need is fulfilled one at a time in ascending order, whereas Alderfer believes that more than one need can be fulfilled at the same time. In other words, Maslow's theory is that everyone's needs progress through the specific five-level pyramid structure, whereas the ERG theory is that people satisfy their needs in different ways at different levels.



Report an Issue

screenshot of the current page

Screenshot loading...