Contemporary theories of motivation


There are theories which are well known but, unfortunately, have not held up well under close examination. However, all is not lost. There are a number of contemporary theories that have one thing in common each has a reasonable degree of valid supporting documentation. Of course, this doesn’t mean that the theories we are about to introduce are unquestionably right. We call them “contemporary theories� not because they necessarily were developed recently, but because they represent the current state of the art in explaining employee motivation.

ERG Theory

Clayton Alderfer has reworked Maslow’s need hierarchy to align it more closely with the empirical research. His revised need hierarchy is labeled ERG theory.

Alderfer argues that there are three groups of core needs — existence, relatedness, and growth hence the label: ERG theory. The existence group is concerned with providing our basic material existence requirements. They include the items that Maslow considered to be physiological and safety needs. The second group of needs are those of relatedness—the desire we have for maintaining important interpersonal relationships. These social and status desires require interaction with others if they are to be satisfied, and they align with Maslow’s social need and the external component of Maslow’s esteem classification. Finally, Alderfer isolates growth needs—an intrinsic desire for personal development. These include the intrinsic component from Maslow’s esteem category and the characteristics included under self-actualization.

Aside from substituting three needs for five, how does Alderfer’s ERGtheory differ from Maslow’s ? In contrast to the hierarchy of needs theory, the ERG theory demonstrates that

1. More than one need may be operative at the same time.

2. If the gratification of a higher-level need is stifled, the desire to satisfy a lower-level need increases.

Maslow’s need hierarchy follows a rigid, step like progression. ERG theory does not assume that there exists a rigid hierarchy in which a lower need must be substantially gratified before one can move on. A person can, for instance, be working on growth even though existence or relatedness needs are unsatisfied; or all three need categories could be operating at the same time.

ERG theory also contains a frustration-regression dimension. Maslow, you’ll remember, argued that an individual would stay at a certain need level until that need was satisfied. ERG theory counters by noting that when a higher-order need level is frustrated, the individual’s desire to increase a lower-level need takes place. Inability to satisfy a need for social interaction, for instance, might increase the desire for more money or better working conditions. So frustration can lead to a regression to a lower need.

In summary, ERG theory argues, like Maslow’s theory, that satisfied lower-order needs lead to the desire to satisfy higher-order needs; but multiple needs can be operating as motivators at the same time, and frustration in attempting to satisfy a higher –level need can result in regression to a lower –level need.

ERG theory is more consistent with our knowledge of individual differences among people. Variables such as education, family background, and cultural environment can alter the importance or driving force that a group of needs holds for a particular individual. The evidence demonstrating that people in other cultures rank the need categories differently—for instance, natives of Spain and Japan place social needs before their physiological requirements—would be consistent with ERG theory. Several studies have supported ERG theory, but there is also evidence that it doesn’t work in some organizations. Overall, however, ERG theory represents a more valid version of the need hierarchy.

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