Motivation Theories

Published December 25, 2012 by Mayrbear's Lair


One of the most common areas studied in psychology is the discipline of motivation. “Seeking to understand the nature of motivation, increase levels of motivation and subsequently improve levels of performance has been a constant goal in management and organizational literature” (Baack, 2012). In fact, methods to inspire and motivate employees in the work place have become big business for authors and personal growth movement icons like Anthony Robbins.


Maslow’s Hierarchy

Motivation theories developed in the US concentrated primarily on employee needs. Many practicing managers continue to use the principles established in these theories. The basic premise is that individuals act to fulfill needs. This serves as a guide for managers. The best known need-based theory of motivation was first developed by Abraham Maslow. His hierarchy of needs approach can be described as a satisfaction-progression model (pictured above). In other words, a person regularly experiences a need until it is regularly satisfied. Clayton Alderfer‘s ERG Theory (illustrated below) sought to simplify Maslow’s theory by breaking it down into three concepts: (a) existence, (b) relatedness, and (c) growth. Existence needs equate to concepts of physiological and safety needs. Relatedness needs match social needs. Growth needs incorporate needs for esteem and self-actualization (Baack, 2012).


ERG Theory

The basic idea behind Maslow’s and the ERG theories is that people behave to satisfy their needs. The studies suggest “existence needs equate to concepts of physiological and safety needs” (Baack, 2012). Both theories examine the physical, social, and physiological needs of individuals. Both theories examine motivation as the factor that starts, sustains and impedes behaviors

The palpable difference in the ERG Theory and Maslow’s Hierarchy is that the ERG theory posits that frustration and regression is at the core of motivational issues. A person that is not able to attain higher levels of satisfaction becomes frustrated. Maslow’s theory applies humanism; that people are fundamentally decent and are motivated by seeking improvement throughout their lives. The hierarchy of needs implies a satisfaction-progression platform that logs the progression by having their needs fulfilled.


I personally have applied aspects of both theories in various arenas of my life. As an optimist, I believe in humanism and am motivated to be of service to others. On the other hand, when I am in a situation where no progress is achieved, frustration is the key that motivates change. I recently embraced Anthony Robbins philosophy that success depends on the following three things: (a) story, (b) state, and (c) strategy. By changing the story, “I am not able to affect change on my own,” to “I am able to succeed and grow,” I change my state of mind and am motivated to apply a new strategy to achieve my goals.

Baack, D. (2012). Organizational Behavior. San Diego: Bridgepoint Education, Inc.

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