Alderfer’s ERG Theory of Motivation

Alderfer's ERG Theory of Motivation

Alderfer’s ERG Motivational Theory

  • (E) Existence Needs: The basic needs to meet the minimum level of existence
  • (R) Relatedness Needs: Social and family needs, the need to feel loved and belong somewhere
  • (G) Growth Needs: The need to produce something useful; to be creative or engage in meaningful tasks

The ERG Theory of Motivation was developed by Clayton Alderfer in 1969. It was developed as an expansion of the ideas proposed by Maslow with the Hierarchy of Needs. (Or see a later expansion to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs)

The ERG Theory of Motivation is concerned with figuring out the motivating factors behind human behavior on an individual, rather than a group, level. It aims to answer the question of “Why does a person do the things they do?”

Books on Motivational Theories


With this, the theory proposes to group Maslow’s Hierarchy into core concepts of Existence Needs, Relatedness Needs, and Growth Needs. However, each level of ERG Needs does not need to be completed before working to meet the needs of the other levels. Alderfer proposed that all of the needs could be worked on simultaneously. You can work on your basic needs of gaining food and engage in creative works while doing it.

In some instances, a need may be too difficult for a person to work on. If this occurred, a person would then regress to fulfill an easier to obtain need. For example, if a person found it too difficult to do creative or engaging work that meets their Growth Needs, they may regress to focusing on their family or social circle with Relatedness Needs.

Maslow/Alderfer ERG Diagram

Alderfer’s ERG Theory / Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Existence Needs

Much like the lower levels of Maslow’s Pyramid, the Existence Needs focuses on the core basics one needs to live and feel secure in their environment. This can be the need to procure food, employment, housing, and the need to feel safe in the environment they live in.

Relatedness Needs

Relatedness Needs are about family and socialization needs. This is the need to belong somewhere with a group, it is the social structure of the individual. We find a sense of who we are based on our group, so it is also focused on external conditions for self-esteem needs.

Growth Needs

Most people have a desire to do work that actually means something deeper than just getting them the basics they need to live. This may be fulfilled through intellectual stimulation, a creative outlet, or by helping others. The Growth Needs focuses on this desire to do more than just have a job.



Alderfer, C. P. (1989). Theories Reflecting My Personal Experience and Life Development. The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science25(4), 351–365. https://doi.org/10.1177/002188638902500404

Caulton, J.R. (2012) The Development and Use of the Theory of ERG. Retrieved from: https://www.regent.edu/acad/global/publications/elj/vol5iss1/ELJ_Vol5No1_Caulton_pp2-8.pdf

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