Alderfer’s hierarchical ERC model: a theory of motivation

Everyone knows the famous Maslow pyramid, in which several levels are hierarchical, each representing a series of more or less basic needs.

Despite its popularity, this theory has not been without controversy and has been reformulated several times, one of the most famous new proposals being the Alderfer hierarchical model ERC, Based on empirical evidence.

In this article, we will learn more about the novelties of this model in terms of Maslow’s pyramid, we will see the three levels that are proposed in counterpoint to the five of the classic model and its use in the world of work. .

    Alderfer hierarchical model ERC

    Alderfer’s hierarchical ERC model, also called ERC motivation theory is a reformulation of the classic pyramid of needs theory originally proposed by Abraham Maslow.

    this offer was raised by American psychologist Clayton Paul Alderfer in the 1960s. This model is based on empirical research conducted by this psychologist at a factory located in Easton, Pennsylvania, United States.

    Still famous, Maslow’s pyramid has never been free from controversy, only to be considered scientifically impossible to prove and based more on a theoretical view than a non-empirical one. Since his proposal, revisions have been made to this theory, with Alderfer’s hierarchical ERC model probably being the most scientific proposition of the original model.

    One of the differences that this model presents compared to Maslow’s is that which condenses the original five levels into just three, referring to the needs of Existence, Relation and Growth, which is why this theory has been called the ERC model. However, just like Maslow’s pyramid, in Alderfer’s hierarchical ERC model these levels represent needs with varying degrees of priority.

    Categories of this motivation theory

    The three levels or categories that make up Alderfer’s hierarchical ERC model are described in more detail below.

    1. Basic needs

    Needs of existence they correspond to what Maslow initially called physiological needs and security needs.

    This level includes all the needs of the human body which, if satisfied, guarantee its proper organic functioning and do not endanger its physical integrity.

    This level is the highest priority of the three, because not being satisfied can lead to the death of the individual. People need food, sleep, shelter and clothing to be able to continue living.

    It should be noted that while most of these needs described here can be easily met materially, the need to feel protected involves a number of factors to keep in mind which, for political reasons, can be difficult to secure.

    Economic and health stability is also seen as an existential necessity.

    2. Relationship needs

    The level of kinship needs would correspond to the affiliation level of the Maslow model. People must have relationships with other people, Have friendly, family and intimate relationships.

    It is a need that is considered universal, although it is true that there are people who have rather introverted personality traits and who prefer to keep their distance and not to affiliate much with others.

    3. Growth needs

    Finally, there are the growth needs, which would be linked to the person’s desire to flourish as an individual, Improve their self-esteem and want to gain new experiences.

    This level corresponds to the last two of Maslow’s pyramid, namely recognition and self-realization.

    How is it different from Maslow’s pyramid?

    As has been suggested throughout this article, the differences between Alderfer’s hierarchical ERC model and Maslow’s pyramid are not limited to one having three levels while the other has five.

    In the case of Maslow’s pyramid, it is argued that it is not possible to satisfy a higher level without first satisfactorily satisfying a lower level. For example, according to this theory, if the third level, which corresponds to that of affiliation, is not satisfied, it would not be possible to move on to the next, which is that of recognition.

    This is not the case in the case of Alderfer’s proposal. Although it is suggested that existential needs would come first, followed by relationship needs and, finally, growth needs, the model raises the possibility of simultaneously satisfying several aspects of several levels of forms. There is not as much stiffness as the classic Maslow pyramid.

    In addition, another remarkable aspect of the Alderfer model is that while these three levels are universal, individuals may prioritize certain needs in very different ways. In other words, this model recognizes individual differences, with, for example, some people choosing to prioritize their personal growth and others choosing to pay more attention to their interpersonal relationships.

    Finally, Alderfer’s proposal raises something new about Maslow’s pyramid, and that is the principle of frustration-regression. According to this, if a higher need is not met, the person becomes frustrated and chooses to meet the lower needs in the hierarchy.

      Application of the model in the field of organizations

      As we mentioned at the beginning of the article, this model it is based on empirical data obtained through research in the workplace, Tracing their origins in a study of how factory workers in Pennsylvania worked and were motivated.

      This model, to be taken into account in the field of organizations, makes it possible to increase employee motivation, especially if we take into account the hierarchical order of needs proposed by Alderfer. As we mentioned before, people don’t have to give the same priority; but yes it is true that failure to properly meet the lowest needs affects the satisfaction of the highest needs.

      For example, an employee who has not met basic needs such as access to decent housing, being able to eat properly or not feeling safe, will negatively affect their motivation and, as a side effect, will do a bad job.

      Also, moving to the level of relationship needs, if the employee does not have a good relationship with his colleagues, subordinates and bosses, he will not feel comfortable in the workplace, which will affect negatively its performance. If, in the worst case, there is hostilities with other employees, this can jeopardize the entire structure and productivity of the organization.

      In the case of development needs, and by presenting it in a more positive way, the employee’s motivation will increase if he sees that his efforts in the workplace have borne fruit, either in the form of recognition by their bosses or under in the form of an increase in their salary. Also, if the job has acquired new knowledge that will enrich your CV and your life in general, the person will appreciate everything you have learned in the company and will speak pleasantly about it.

      Nowadays, most companies try to take these aspects into account, Since no one is interested in having demotivated workers who do not do their job satisfactorily. If employees are not encouraged to expand their knowledge, are uncomfortable working in the company, or are simply unhealthy because of the organization, the business is doomed to failure.

      Bibliographical references:

      • Alderfer, CP (1969). An empirical proof of a new theory of human needs; Organizational behavior and human performance, 4 (2), 142-175.
      • Alderfer, CP (1972) Existence, relationship and growth; Human Needs in Organizational Environments, New York: Free Press.

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