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Alderfer's theory of Motivation

Clayton Paul Alderfer (1940-2015)


  •  Clayton Alderfer derived the ERG theory, which is an extension of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.1
  • Alderfer classified the needs into the categories: Existence, relatedness, and growth.
  • Alderfer proposed that when a certain category of needs isn't being met, people will redouble their efforts to fulfil needs in a lower category.3
  •  Aiming to satisfy personal wants, motivation is the act of initiating and maintaining goal-directed behavior.4
  • Being able to motivate staff members and understanding why is a crucial managerial ability.
  • The ERG theory does not suggest a hierarchy.5

Key Concepts

  • Motivation does not remain static.
  • Motivation is dependent on many continually changing factors.
  • The needs aren’t in any order and any desire to fulfill, a need can be activated at any point in time.
  • The lower level needs not requiring to be satisfied in order to satisfy a higher level needs.
  • Existence, related to person’s physical needs such as food, clothing and shelter.
  • Relatedness, relates to a person’s interpersonal needs within his personal as well as professional settings.
  • Growth relates to a person’s needs of personal development

Alderfer's existence, growth and relatedness (ERG) theory proposes three core human needs in organisational settings:
1.    existence (the desire for material things),
2.    relatedness (the desire for cordial interpersonal relations) and
3.    growth (the desire for opportunities to be creative and to develop one’s skills).6


ERG theoretical framework has been used in investigating job satisfaction and employee motivation in various settings.7


  1. Alderfer CP. Theories Reflecting My Personal Experience and Life Development. J Appl Behav Sci. 1989 Nov 1;25(4):351–65.
  2. Alderfer CP. An empirical test of a new theory of human needs. Organ Behav Hum Perform. 1969 May 1;4(2):142–75.
  3. Alderfer C. P. Existence, relatedness and growth. New York: Free pres; 1972.
  4. Barikani A, Javadi M, Mohammad A, Firooze B, Shahnazi M. Satisfaction and Motivation of General Physicians toward Their Career. Glob J Health Sci. 2013 Jan;5(1):166–73.
  5. El-Desoky R, Cruz ADL, Thornton JD, Wanat MA, Varkey D. Identifying predictors of generalized anxiety among student pharmacists in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Curr Pharm Teach Learn. 2023 Jan;15(1):34.
  6. Li H, Yuan B, Wang D, Meng Q. Motivating factors on performance of primary care workers in China: a systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ Open. 2019 Nov 21;9(11):e028619.
  7. Yang Y, Ling Q. The influence of existence–relatedness–growth need satisfaction and job burnout of young university teachers: the mediating role of job satisfaction. Front Psychol. 2023 Aug 3;14:1205742.
This page was last updated on: 16/05/2024