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Alderfer’s ERG theory of needs

Alderfer’s ERG Theory

In several aspects while Alderfer’s theory is similar to the one given by Maslow; it redefines Maslow’s theory to simplify it. However, there are some key differences between the two versions. Alderfer gave three key categories of needs. They were E – Existence, R- Relatedness and G for growth needs. One most important difference between the two theories is that while Maslow maintains each low category of needs should be satisfied before someone can move up, Alderfer shows that two or more categories could be satisfied simultaneously. Alderfer’s theory is less rigid in terms of the satisfaction of needs.


Existence needs: This is the most basic category of needs defined by Alderfer. However, the existence level in his theory corresponds to the two most basic categories of needs in Maslow’s theory. They are the physiological and the safety needs which are most essential for anybody’s existence.

Relatedness needs: The relatedness needs are the human needs to relate with others and feel important. This category corresponds to the two middle groups in Maslow’s theory. Maslow’s categories of social needs and external component of self-esteem needs come within this category. It relates to people’s need to have interpersonal relationships and relate with others in the society. People also need recognition and value to feel valued in the society.

Growth needs: The growth needs in Alderfer’s ERG theory corresponds to the intrinsic component of Maslow’s self-esteem needs and his self-actualization needs.  People look for growth and personal development by doing work that is meaningful.


Alderfer put forward these three main categories of needs. Moreover, the order of need satisfaction could be more flexible as per his theory rather than Maslow’s theory. While the existence needs have a higher priority, the priority may change for people with changing circumstances. Some of the key differences between the two theories are as follows:

  • People do not strictly progress from one level of need to another. People can try to satisfy needs from more than one level at the same time.
  • The priorities may vary for people. It is not necessary that everyone has the same priority. The priorities can change as per changing circumstances.
  • The frustration regression element in Alderfer’s theory which asserts that if one of the higher needs is not satisfied a person may feel frustrated and go back to satisfying one of the basic needs again.

Managers must understand the sources of motivation for their employees by understanding their needs. Employees can have more than one needs at the same time and if the managers focus on just one need, it might not satisfy the employee. Moreover, as per the frustration regression element, if one of the higher needs of an employee is not satisfied it will give riser to frustration and affect his morale.