Assessing Maslows Hierarchy of Needs Theory


One of the most widely known theories of motivation is the Hierarchy of Needs theory, developed by psychologist Abraham Maslow. It argues that individual needs form a five level hierarchy. According to this hierarchy, our first need is survival, so we concentrate on basic physiological needs, such as food, water and shelter, until we are sure that these needs are covered. Next concern is, safety needs, which pertains to the desire to feel safe, secure, and free from threats to our existence. Once we feel safe and secure and free from threats to our existence, we turn our attention to relationships with others in order to fulfill our Belongingness needs, which involve the desire to affiliate with and be accepted and loved by others. With support from loved ones, we focus on esteem needs, which are related to the desire to have a positive self image. Finally we reach the highest level, self actualization needs, which pertain to the requirement of developing our capabilities and reaching our full potential.

Herzberg's Two-Factor Theory:

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Building on the work of Maslow, psychologist Frederick Herzberg presented his theory that is called Two-Factor Theory. According to him, factors that seemed to make individuals feel satisfied with their jobs were associated with the content of the job. These factors were then labeled motivators. On the other hand, factors that seemed to make individuals feel dissatisfied were associated to the job context. These were labeled hygiene factors.

Two-factor theory distinguishes between: Motivators: Motivators are considered as the features that give positive satisfaction to the employees, arising from intrinsic conditions of the job itself, such as recognition, achievement, or personal growth. Intrinsic conditions are the conditions that come from inside an individual rather than from any external or outside rewards, such as money or grades. The absence of such conditions does not necessarily mean that an employee is dissatisfied. Their absence only means that an employee is neither satisfied nor dissatisfied i.e. neutral. The motivators include: Growth and achievement, Recognition, Work itself, and Responsibility. Hygiene factors: Hygiene factors are those aspects of a job, the absence of which would result in dissatisfaction, but it does not necessarily mean that the employees are satisfied because of these aspects. These are extrinsic to the work itself, and include aspects such as company policies, supervisory practices, working conditions, monetary rewards or wages/salary.

Basically, the presence of hygiene factors guarantee that an employee is not dissatisfied. Motivators are needed to take employees to a higher level of satisfaction and to motivate them to higher performance. Herzberg presented the logic that because the factors causing satisfaction are different from those causing dissatisfaction, the two feelings cannot simply be treated as opposites of one another. The opposite of satisfaction is not dissatisfaction, but rather, no satisfaction. Similarly, the opposite of dissatisfaction is no dissatisfaction.

Herzberg argued that there are two distinct human needs portrayed. First, there are physiological needs that can be fulfilled by money, for example, to purchase food and shelter. The fulfillment of these physiological needs would end dissatisfaction. Second, there is the psychological need to achieve and grow, and this need is fulfilled by activities that cause one to grow. The fulfillment of these needs would cause a higher level of satisfaction.

ERG Theory:

Clayton Alderfer further worked on Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs model and presented his own theory  into a shorter set of three needs: Existence, Relatedness and Growth (hence 'ERG'). Unlike Maslow, Alderfer argues that we can be concerned with more than one need category at same time. It is not necessary for lower level needs to be duly fulfilled before we concern ourselves with other needs. He did not see these as being a hierarchy, but being more of the same scale.  Existence needs include physiological desires, such as food and water, and work-related material desires, such as pay, fringe benefits, and physical working conditions. When our needs for existence are satisfied, we feel safe and physically comfortable. This includes Maslow's Physiological and Safety needs. At the next level, once we are safe and secure, we consider our social needs. Relatedness needs address our relationships with significant others, such as families, friendship groups, work groups, and professional groups. They deal with our desire to be accepted and loved by others, achieve mutual understanding and exercise some influence on those who are related to us. This need covers Maslow's two levels of needs that are; Love/belongingness and Esteem needs. Growth: At the highest level, we seek to grow, be creative and innovative for ourselves and for our environment, to be a significant and responsible member of our society, along with the desire to have a productive impact on our surroundings. When we are successfully growing, we feel a sense of wholeness, achievement and fulfillment. This covers Maslow's Self-actualization needs.

Acquired-Needs Theory:

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David McClelland argued that our needs are acquired or learned on the basis of our life experiences. Most of these fall into three general categories of needs. A person's motivation and efficiency in certain tasks are influenced by these three needs. Need for Achievement (nAch) is "the desire to accomplish challenging tasks and achieve a standard of excellence in one's work". Individuals with a high nAch typically seek competitive situations in which they can achieve results through their own efforts and can receive relatively immediate feedback on how they are doing. People with a high need for achievement seek to excel and thus tend to avoid both low-risk and high-risk situations. Need for Affiliation (nAff) is "the desire to maintain warm, friendly relationship with others". The nAff person is 'affiliation motivated', and has a need for friendly relationships and is motivated towards interaction with other people. Such people would like to have pleasant relationships with other people and need to feel accepted by other people. They would like to involve in such professions in which they would get better opportunities to involve in a large amount of interaction with others. Need for Power (nPow) is "the desire to influence others and control one's environment". The individual with nPow is 'authority motivated'. This driver produces a need to be influential, effective and to make an impact. Need for power has two forms, personal and institutional. Those who need personal power want to dominate others for the sake of demonstrating their ability to wield power. This need often is perceived as undesirable. Individuals with a high need for institutional power focus on working with others to solve problems and further organizational goals. Such individuals like getting things done in an organized manner. They are also willing to sacrifice some of their own self-interests in order to achieve organizational goals. Managers with a high need for institutional power tend to be more effective than those with a high need for personal power as they are the good organizers of the efforts of others.


Expectancy Theory:

The Expectancy Theory of Motivation was proposed by Victor Vroom. It explains the behavioral process of why individuals choose one behavioral option over another. It also explains how they make decisions to achieve the end they value. Vroom introduces three variables within the expectancy theory which are valence (V), expectancy (E) and instrumentality (I). The three elements are important behind choosing one element over another because they are clearly defined: effort-performance expectancy (E>P expectancy), performance-outcome expectancy (P>O expectancy).

Three components of Expectancy theory: Expectancy, Instrumentality, and Valence

Expectancy: Effort → Performance (E→P)

Instrumentality: Performance → Outcome (P→O)

Valence- V(R)

Expectancy is the belief that one's effort (E) will result in attainment of desired performance (P) goals. Usually based on an individual's past experience, self confidence (self efficacy), and the perceived difficulty of the performance standard or goal. Instrumentality is the belief that a person will receive a reward if the performance expectation is met. This reward may come in the form of a pay increase, promotion, recognition or sense of accomplishment. Instrumentality is low when the reward is given for all performances given. Valence is the value the individual places on the rewards based on their needs, goals, values and Sources of Motivation. Factors associated with the individual's valence for outcomes are values, needs, goals, preferences and Sources of Motivation Strength of an individual's preference for a particular outcome. In order for the valence to be positive, the person must prefer attaining the outcome to not attaining it.

Equity Theory:

Equity theory proposes that individuals who perceive themselves as either under-rewarded or over-rewarded will experience distress, and that this distress leads to efforts to restore equity within the relationship. It focuses on determining whether the distribution of resources is fair to both relational partners. Equity is measured by comparing the ratios of contributions and benefits of each person within the relationship. Partners do not have to receive equal benefits (such as receiving the same amount of love, care, and financial security) or make equal contributions (such as investing the same amount of effort, time, and financial resources), as long as the ratio between these benefits and contributions is similar.

Goal-Setting Theory:

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Goal Setting Theory implies that clear goals and appropriate feedback motivates employees. When employees work towards a goal, it spearhead a major source of motivation within the employees to actually reach the goal. As a result, the final performance of the employee improves. In setting the right goals, there needs to be the right combination of certain factors. Let's have a look at these important factors of goal setting theory in management. Clarity: Vague, unambiguous goal spun in thin air will only build a house on the sand. Such random goals leave lots of room for misconceptions and will never give desired results. Crisp, clear, measurable, specific goals have to be set and communicated to the employee in the simplest way possible. No room for assumptions in goal setting. Challenging: Besides being clear and specific, the goal set should be challenging. Easy to achieve goals fail to keep the employee excited, however, since people are often motivated by the feeling of achievement, setting challenging goals helps motivate the employee to do his best. Another factor that has to be noted here is the fact of recognition. When an employee knows his efforts will not go unnoticed, he will want to stretch himself. Achievable: We just saw how important it is for an employee to know what his manager expects out of him to perform better. However, if the goal by his manager is something really unachievable, it will do more damage instead of good. Easy goals don't seem to challenge an employee, however, in the eagerness to set challenging goals, if the goal is tending on the unattainable side, the employee can get demotivated, instead of motivated. The idea is to challenge the employee to give his best performance without frustrating him. Commitment: Setting goals by involving employees will increase the employees' level of commitment to the job. Read more on lack of motivation at work. The theory of participative management rests on the basis of allowing employees to have a role in setting goals and making decisions. If employees feel they were part of creating the goal, they are more likely to try their level best to achieve the goal. Feedback: Often managers stop at setting goals and communicating them, all the while forgetting that feedback is a very necessary step. For any goal setting program to be effective it has to include feedback. Feedback is the tool which helps clear issues between management and employees regarding goal complexity, expectations clarifications, rewards, etc. Informal as well as formal feedbacks sessions help get rid of minor splinters that can hamper the process of achieving the vision. 


Reinforcement theory of motivation was proposed by BF Skinner and his associates. It states that individual's behaviour is a function of its consequences. i.e., individual's behaviour with positive consequences tends to be repeated, but individual's behaviour with negative consequences tends not to be repeated. Reinforcement theory of motivation is totally opposite to the Cognitive Theories of Motivation. This theory focuses totally on what happens to an individual when he takes some action. Thus, according to Skinner, the external environment of the organization must be designed effectively and positively so as to motivate the employee. This theory is a strong tool for analyzing controlling mechanism for individual's behaviour. However, it does not focus on the causes of individual's behaviour.

Positive Reinforcement: This implies giving a positive response when an individual shows positive and required behaviour, e.g., immediately praising an employee for coming early for job. This will increase probability of outstanding behaviour occurring again. Reward is a positive reinforce, but not necessarily. If and only if the employees' behaviour improves, reward can said to be a positive reinforcer. Positive reinforcement stimulates occurrence of a behaviour. It must be noted that more spontaneous is the giving of reward, the greater reinforcement value it has. Negative Reinforcement: This implies rewarding an employee by removing negative / undesirable consequences. Both positive and negative reinforcement can be used for increasing desirable / required behavior. Punishment: It implies removing positive consequences so as to lower the probability of repeating undesirable behaviour in future. In other words, punishment means applying undesirable consequence for showing undesirable behaviour, for instance, suspending an employee for breaking the organizational rules. Punishment can be equalized by positive reinforcement from alternative source. Extinction: It implies absence of reinforcements. In other words, extinction implies lowering the probability of undesired behaviour by removing reward for that kind of behaviour. For instance - if an employee no longer receives praise and admiration for his good work, he may feel that his behaviour is generating no fruitful consequence. Extinction may unintentionally lower desirable behaviour