Need Theories: Comparing Maslow, Alderfer, and McClelland
Most theories of motivation revolve around the idea an employee’s needs influence their motivation. Needs are physiological or psychological scarcities that stimulate behavior therefore are necessary to live a healthy, productive lives both in personal and work lives. “If work is meaningless, then life comes close to being meaningless”(Maslow, Stephens Heil 39). These needs, whether weak or strong and are greatly influenced by environmental factors, thus causing human needs to vary over time and place. The general idea behind need theories of motivation is that unmet needs motivate people to placate them. On the contrary, people are not motivated to pursue a satisfied or achieved need. “In general terms, motivation can be defined as the desire to achieve a goal, combined with the energy, determination and opportunity to achieve it”(Compare and Contrast Clayton Paul Alderfer’s Erg Theory of Motivation and Abraham Maslow’s Needs Hierarchy). Let us now consider three popular content theories of motivation: Maslow’s need hierarchy theory, Alderfer’s ERG theory, and McClelland’s need theory.
Abraham Maslow, a psychologist, first published his need hierarchy theory of motivation in 1943. According to Maslow, we all have five levels of need. The first, and most basic level is the need for survival or physiological needs, followed by the need for safety, together these two level represent our basic needs. While the physiological needs are usually already met, some employees have not achieved the safety need, whether it is a hazardous workplace environment, or job stability. As we move up the hierarchy, we approach the social need. At this level, employees are seeing acceptance and belonging within their workplace peers. Once the social need is met, employees move to the esteem or ego need stage. At this point, staff members begin to seek a level of self-esteem from the competence level and seek recognition from their peers and management. At the top of the hierarchal pyramid is the self-actualization need. At this point, maximization of one’s full potential is achieved. This point cannot be reached until all other needs have been met. Podmoroff states, “Maslow’s work is often considered the foundation for which other motivation theories grew and many of these theorists support a downward cycle of employee motivation when particular need are not met”(26).
Clayton Alderfer developed the ERG Model, as an enhancement to Maslow’s model, focusing specifically on work related needs. His theory has three needs, existence needs, relatedness needs and growth needs, as opposed to the 5 for Maslow. The existence need can be related to the needs required to maintain a humane life. The relatedness needs focuses on social interactions and interpersonal relationships. Lastly, the growth need is the desire to be creative, self-confident, and productive, and engaged to the full abilities and obtain enhanced capabilities or skills. “ERG theory does not assume needs are related to each other in a stair-step hierarchy as does Maslow. Alderfer believes that more than one need may be activated at a time. Finally, ERG theory contains a frustration-regression component. That is, frustration of higher-order needs can influence the desire for lower-order needs” (Kreitner ch. 8).
David McClelland identified three needs, need for achievement, need for affiliation, and need for power, individuals have at differing levels. He argued that all of us experience these needs but at capricious points. “A person’s motivation and effectiveness in certain job functions are influenced by these three needs”(McClelland - Theory of Needs). Those who have a high need for achievement share three common characteristics: a preference for tasks of moderate difficulty, situations in which their performance is due to their own efforts, and a desire for more performance feedback on their successes and