Alderfer's ERG Theory

Understanding the Priorities in People's Needs

Alderfer's ERG Theory - Understanding the Priorities in People's Needs

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People can only bloom when the conditions are right.

What do people need?

Well, it depends on the circumstances.

If you're struggling to survive in a famine-hit area, your most important need is going to be food. If you're living in luxury but feel isolated and alone, your top priority might be reaching out to friends or family.

So people have needs depending on their circumstances. This is the basis for Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, one of the best-known theories of motivation.

In the 1940s, the psychologist Abraham Maslow argued that there were five levels of need. He said that these were hierarchical and that lower-tier needs had to be satisfied before higher ones. The five levels (starting with the lowest) are: physiological, safety, social, self-esteem, and self-actualization.

While it's a useful starting point, Maslow's theory doesn't fully reflect the complexity of human motivation. Using the Hierarchy of Needs, our physiological need for food would have to be met before we felt the need for social relationships. In reality, these needs are usually not independent: you can be hungry for love and food at the same time. Likewise, you can experience a need to belong (social) while you are looking for challenging work (esteem).

Alderfer's ERG Theory

These overlaps set psychologist Clayton Alderfer on the road to developing a model to explain the "simultaneous" nature of Maslow's five needs. He published the ERG Theory of Motivation in a 1969 article, "An Empirical Test of a New Theory of Human Need."


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