Serious doubts have been expressed about the existence of the five distinct need categories, which Maslow hypothesized. There seems to be some overlapping between esteem, social, and physiological needs. Also, the lines between esteem, social, and self-actualization needs are not entirely clear. With these points in mind, Clayton Alderfer condensed Maslow’s five need categories into three sets:
(i) Existence need: these include all forms of material and physiological and safety needs. i.e., Maslow’s first two level needs.
(ii) Relatedness need: this includes all needs that involve relationships with other people we care about. Thus, the opposite of satisfaction or relatedness needs is emotional distance rather than hatred. Relatedness needs cover Maslow’s social needs and that of esteem needs which are derived from other people.
(iii) Growth need: these needs involve persons making creative efforts to achieve full potential in the existing environment. It is like Maslow’s last level need of self-actualization.
Alderfer also revised Maslow’s theory in three other ways:
(a) He argued that the three need categories form a hierarchy only in the sense of decreasing concreteness. That is, as we move from, a focus on existence to relatedness to growth needs, the ways we can satisfy those needs become increasingly abstract.
(b) He recognized that rise in the level of satisfaction of our existence and relatedness needs may result in decrease concreteness. That is, as we move from, a focus on existence to relatedness to growth needs, the ways we can satisfy those needs become increasingly abstract.
(c) He reasoned that we are likely to try to first satisfy out most concrete needs and then we tend to move on to more abstract needs. in this sense, Alderfer sounds somewhat like Maslow, suggesting a pattern of satisfaction progression-that is, if we can’t satisfy needs at a given level of abstractness, we “drop back” and again focus on more concrete needs. Thus, if we are unable to satisfy out growth needs, we again focus on relatedness needs; we can go through cycles, moving from a focus on one need, then another, and then back again.
Alderfer conceived of ERG needs along a continuum which avoids the implication that the higher up an individual is in the hierarchy the better it is. Different types on needs can operate simultaneously. If a particular path towards the satisfaction is blocked, the individual will both persist along that path and at the same time regress towards more easily satisfied needs. In this way, Alderfer distinguishes between chronic needs, which persist over a period of time, and the episode needs, which are situational and can change according to the environment. Alderfer’s work gives up a sound basis to categories of human needs and to think about the relationship between need categories.
Comparison and contrast with Maslow theory:
There are some similarities as well as dissimilarities between Alderfer’s ERG theory and Maslow’s theory of Need Hierarchy, which are as follows:
(a) Similarities: (i) both are content theories; (ii) the basic needs emphasized in both are the same; (iii) the overall structure of need categories is also the same; Alderfer has grouped further the five needs enunciated by Maslow; and (iv) both deal with upward movement of motivation according to the hierarchy.
(b) Dissimilarities: (i) Maslow’s main contention is hierarchy of needs, whereas Alderfer focused more on a continuum of needs than their hierarchical levels; (ii) thus, ERG needs do not maintain sharp lines of demarcation; (iii) unlike Maslow,l Alderfer also envisaged downward movement in the hierarchy. In his opinion, there can be not only satisfaction progression but frustration regression as well; and (iv) Alderfer also recognized the influence of a man’s personal background and his natural environment. Accordingly, related needs may in some cases take precedence over existence needs.
Merits of Alderfer’s theory:
(i) Alderfer’s concept of needs is more direct and simple to understand; (ii) it is more flexible and therefore, more realistic. In the words of Fred Luthans, “most contemporary analyses of work motivation tend to support Alderfer’s theory over Maslow’s”; (iii) the provision of backlash of fulfillment of a need accords with reality; and (iv) there is a specific method indicated in the theory for its testing and validation.
Criticism of Alderfer’s theory:
The fact that the needs are not strictly demarcated goes against the theory. Probably this is one of the important reasons for lack of popularity of Alderfer’s theory. The term ‘relatedness’ used in the theory is particularly confusing; and like other content theories, it fails to contribute effectively to human resources management.