It’s Sunday night after 9p.m. and still your presentation sits unfinished on your desk. How many times have you been severely lacking motivation in this type of circumstance? Where can you find the motivation to suit your individual goals and needs best? We each function differently and require different types of motivation to achieve our goals. One of the most widely regarded theories of motivation, according to psychologists, is the ERG Theory, which states that that there are three different types of motivational stimuli: existence, relatedness, and Growth needs.
n 1969 Clayton Alderfer formulated a new theory of motivation in response to Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, calling his new theory the ERG Theory of Motivation (Existence, Relatedness, and Growth). His revision was an attempt to use empirical research to support Maslow’s original motivational theory. In similar fashion to Maslow’s model, ERG motivation is tiered, forming a triangle and operating on as pyramid structure. Existence needs are more vital than Relatedness needs, which themselves are stronger than Growth needs.
To gain a full understanding Alderfer’s theory we must examine the three motivational needs he puts forth. Existence-driven motivational needs explain our drive to complete an action or task because it will result in the acquisition of means to sustain life, with rewards being housing, food, clothing, and other basic needs. This type of motivation is the most important and strongest of all needs, according to the ERG Theory of Motivation. At a base level, our drive to fulfill existence needs constantly drives the decisions we make. These needs can be better understood by considering the reason most of us go work every day – to provide ourselves and loved ones with a decent and comfortable living. We subconsciously elect to be motivated on this level in order to procure the things we need to live.
The second of his three proposed motivational needs is called the need for Relatedness, meaning we feel driven to be accepted in society on many levels. This socially driven need for relatedness can guide our behavior. One might work extra hours to be able to afford an expensive ring for his girlfriend or he might apply himself at work to impress co-workers or to make friends. As human beings that desire to be a well-respected member of society is ingrained in us. These needs could also be seen as self-esteem needs or our need to be seen a way that makes us feel good about ourselves. We will take action to ensure we maintain that image. Whether we want to lose that last ten pounds, have our teeth whitened, or acquire a new, prestigious job title, we are constantly motivated to bolster our self-esteem.
The final need in Alderfer’s three point pyramid is the umbrella term Growth needs. Someone who is motivated by a need for Growth will strive to complete actions that contribute to their individual, personal development. Growth needs can be fulfilled by activities that foster our need for betterment of self and change. For example, someone might elect to get a Master’s degree later in life to promote their skills and intellectual growth.
The ERG theory is also interesting when examined through the lens of socioeconomic class structure. For example, a seriously devoted poet with little income will probably value growth needs over existence needs, whereas a highly paid executive will most likely value existence and relatedness over growth needs. Another way to examine this theorem is to look at it from a first world/third world perspective. Someone living in a highly developed country will not need to worry about existence needs as much as a person who lives in a third world county.