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Needs Case Study - Wiki 1 - Group 1


When in a position that challenges our motivation, it becomes clear that we have to redirect and reassess.  Motivation, from the latin "movere" meaning "to move" (PSU, Lesson 1: Introduction, 2012), is critical in that it opens a path toward our desires and meeting our needs.  When personnel needs lack for any reason, the impact is felt by all stakeholders (e.g. employees, clients, and vendors).  This void may increase the motivation to satisfy one's own needs in the most suitable manner to the individual.  Often employers fail to acknowledge and address a lack of support for employee needs, leading to employee dissatisfaction and turnover.

When an individual is faced with challenges, knowledge can be gained from those experiences in order to adapt and overcome. The premise of needs theories begin with the question, "Why do people work?".  The answer to this question may be relative to the person who is asked. Several needs theories have been developed, some of the earliest and most debated theories are that of Maslow's Heirarchy of Needs, Alderfer's ERG (existence, relatedness, and growth) continuum, and McClelland's Need Theory (PSU, Lesson 2: Need theories, 2012).  In the following case study "Joe", an employee at XYZ, Inc., provides insight on how psychological and physiological needs dictate behaviors.  Alderfer's ERG Theory explains his behavioral processes.  

This case will look into the following questions:

•  How do people react when their needs are not met? 

•  What impact does the failure to meet psychological and physiological needs have on employee motivation? 

•  Which needs are more important? 

Case Information

"Joe" is in his late thirties and has been working consistently since obtaining his B.S. degree in Computer Science. He has had a successful career working in the Internet Technology (IT) field for several companies. Joe experienced some challenges working for his previous employer XYZ, Inc., a logistics company in the trucking and warehousing industry.  Initially, Joe had been hired at XYZ, Inc. as a Java Developer. Joe built strong work relationships and proved himself a valuable asset to the organization.  One year after hiring he had been promoted to Senior Java Developer.  Joe had been ambitious and dedicated additional time to company projects to ensure success.  He also spent several months enhancing his education by obtaining certifications in other computer languages.  He had also continued to build a reputation at work for being friendly, driven, competent, and knowledgeable.  

After his second year on the job, Joe had again been promoted and given greater responsibility as the Director of IT at XYZ, Inc.  Shortly after his second promotion, the company began to experience financial difficulties. XYZ, Inc. attempted to save money by mandating that all employees, including Joe, be subject to furloughs; mandatory time off without pay. The initial round of unpaid time off lasted two weeks.  Joe, along with other employees, became concerned that they would not earn enough money to meet personal financial obligations. Subsequent furloughs consisted of partial weeks and worries remained the same despite working slightly more hours. When unpaid time off proved unsuccessful at reducing corporate costs, XYZ, Inc. began downsizing. The IT department, being one of the largest and most expensive to operate, was hit hard during layoff phases.  

In phase one of downsizing all IT contractors were let go and overseas outsourcing was terminated.  About sixty days later, Joe was told to lay off about half of his immediate reports, and at this juncture he felt physically ill as he was having to personally layoff friends and coworkers. Less than two months later, Joe's department lost another 11 developers and 3 senior developers to a combination of layoffs and turnover. Joe once again had to deliver the news to his department members. Because it was December (Christmas time), Joe was even more stressed and upset at having to lay off his direct reports.  By this time, Joe was the only management level IT employee that existed between the development team and the corporate vice-president. Joe now felt he was at risk for losing his job, either by being laid off or by the organization's complete demise. Joe began to search for a position in another company.


ERG Theory of Motivation was introduced by Clayton P. Alderfer in 1969, to improve upon Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (PSU, Lesson 2: Need theories, 2012).  Alderfer reduced the number of needs, eliminated the order (which allowed for flexibility within the needs), and stipulated that needs can be pursued simultaneously (PSU, Lesson 2: Need theories, 2012).  Alderfer’s theory is comprised of three needs: existence, relatedness, and growth (PSU, Lesson 2: Need theories, 2012). Existence needs are described as relating to one's safety and physiological needs (such as food, water, and shelter), relatedness needs are concerned with a person's social needs (such as the need to feel belonging) and finally, growth needs are related to improving one's self-esteem and self-actualization  (PSU, Lesson 2: Need theories, 2012).  ERG theory proposes that needs fulfillment flows back and forth depending on the individual and their environment, which leaves room for what Alderfer called frustration-regression.  Frustration-regression is the idea that when an individual is frustrated with a need unsatisfied, regression towards a need that was previously fulfilled is a likely action (PSU, Lesson 2: Need theories, 2012). For example, if an individual's sense of security is threatened, they may try to fulfill a relatedness need by joining a social gathering. Alderfer’s theory is regarded as a more valid theory of motivational needs specifically concerning motivation in the work environment (Arnolds & Boshoff, 2002, pg. 698).

Joe’s tenure at XYZ, Inc. illustrates Alderfer’s Existence Relatedness Growth (ERG) theory of motivation. All of Joe's existence, relatedness, and growth needs were being met at XYZ, Inc. initially. His existence needs were met because he was earning enough money to support himself and his family; his relatedness needs were met because he was well liked by employees; and his growth needs were met because of his promotion to management within a relatively short length of time. He was also taking classes to gain more knowledge in his field, which further illustrates growth fulfillment. Then a culmination of events triggered frustration-regression (Redmond, 2010).

Frustration-regression for Joe began as he started to see signs that XYZ, Inc. was failing.  Employees were being placed on mandatory furloughs, and it appeared the company’s management decisions were counterproductive as the furloughs continued.  Joe saw his colleagues struggling financially while he, himself, no longer had a sense of job security; the fear of the inability to support his family was a seemingly harsh reality. He felt unsure about the security of his future and therefore his existence needs were in jeopardy.  Socially he became more disengaged because many of his friends at work had been laid-off, some at his own hands. He was also placed in the uncomfortable position of having to decide between telling his remaining coworkers to seek other employment, or maintaining loyalty to the organization by keeping the progressively daunting corporate financial developments to himself. With that, his relatedness needs could no longer be satisfied and his overall well-being and self-esteem were lacking vitality.  Frustration-regression occurred when Joe's lack of security in existence needs forced him to develop even greater existence needs.

According to a study by Arnolds and Boshoff (2002), self-esteem has significant positive influences on an individual’s performance intentions in the workplace (Arnolds & Boshoff, 2002, p. 715).  Joe was left with the decision to find another job that will fulfill his needs and renew his intentions to perform his job at the capacity he knows he’s capable of. Joe's decision to search for new employment demonstrates his need to regress from growth and relatedness needs to existence needs. According to Alderfer’s ERG Theory, Joe can feel a void in existence, relatedness, and/or growth needs simultaneously and he can take action to fill whichever need or needs most important to him at any given time (Redmond, 2012). Joe was able to find a new job that satisfied his existence needs by enabling him to gain the security of steady income at a start-up company where he can also fill his need for growth. As you can see Joe was able to satisfy two needs at once illustrating simultaneous, continuous need fulfillment.  

From the perspective of a business, there is no obligation to create a sense of well-being for their employees. However, it would benefit organizations to understand what needs lead to self-esteem enhancement for their employees and to attempt to help fulfill those needs. As mentioned above, self-esteem is the most significant positive influence on performance intentions (Arnolds & Boshoff, 2002, p. 715). When self-esteem and performance intentions are high it improves morale, work quality, and effectiveness; all these elements are likely to equal profitability for the business (Arnolds & Boshoff, 2002, p. 715).

Limitations & Further Research 

In general, the ERG Theory has two major exceptions that were not addressed above (PSU, Lesson 2: Need theories, 2012).  They are as follows:

  • Failure to fulfill existence needs leads to greater existence needs.  In the case of Joe, he began feeling he would not be able to provide for his family because of the fear of losing his job, which led to greater emphasis on needing to provide for his family
  • Fulfillment of growth needs leads to greater growth needs.  It applies to Joe in the sense that his initial growth needs were met by a promotion, which would have made his desires for another promotion in future stronger if XYZ, Inc. did not lay off employees

The exceptions, specifically the first one regarding existence needs, made it difficult for the researchers to put enough emphasis on the other two needs.  Thus, the need to support his family could have been overemphasized as compared to growth and relatedness needs. 

Generalization is the other major limitation that the researchers faced.  According to Gravatter and Wallnau (2011, p. 215), generalization refers to "the extent to which relationships among conceptual variables can be demonstrated among a wide variety of people and a wide variety of manipulated and measured variables".  The research and analysis completed on Joe may give a greater understanding of others in similar situations that live in his geographic area, but it cannot be generalized to fit individuals in other areas or cultures.

To further support generalization, the researchers could conduct the same study in other locations throughout the world.  For example, the study could be repeated in China, which is considered to be a more collective-based culture instead of individualistic (PSU, Lesson 2: Need theories, 2012).  That major difference means that China would likely yield different results than this study.  Doing further research would also improve validity in the study, which is the degree to which a study accurately reflects or assesses the specific concept(s) that the researchers attempted to measure (Colorado, 2012).


The researchers were exceedingly clear and descriptive when linking Joe to Alderfer’s ERG Theory (1969).  According to the case information, Joe’s existence, relatedness, and growth needs were initially met by XYZ, Inc. as follows:

  • Existence needs were met by earning enough money to support himself and his family
  • Relatedness needs were met by being well liked by his employees
  • Growth needs were met by being promoted to a higher position in a short amount of time

Humans have always had the need(s) specified in our case study.  When wanting to understand our own individual differences and similarities these theoretical explanations become a very useful and necessary tool.  As with the case of our subject "Joe", he demonstrated intrinsic and extrinsic satisfaction until his company had problems. Joe had met many of his own needs, both intrinsic and extrinsic with having attained knowledge and climbing the proverbial ladder at his place of employment.  He had a certain amount of self pride in a job well done while being able to care for his family.  When XYZ, Inc. began to struggle financially, Joe began to show increasing amounts of frustration-regression concurrent with initial and repetitive actions. Ultimately XYZ, Inc. lost Joe's faith and confidence. Had different decisions been made during the financial hardship, it is difficult to believe the outcome would have been the same. It is more likely that if Joe's existence needs had been met he would have continued to work for XYZ, Inc.

ERG theory explains that we all have various needs, and that we may be motivated by one, two, or all three of those needs at any given time. There was nothing Joe could do in his immediate environment to end the threat to his existence needs. Joe quit his job because there was no alternative solution and no attempt made by his employer to reassure him that his existence needs were secure. Therefore, it is important for employers to recognize how threats to existence needs can undermine growth and relatedness needs. To ignore them is to reduce employee satisfaction and motivation as well as corporate production and prosperity, while increasing the likelihood of employee turnover. 


Arnolds, C.A., & Boshoff, C. (2002). Compensation, esteem valence and job performance: an empirical assessment of Alderfer’s ERG theory. International Journal of Human Resource Management, 13:4, 697-719.

Colorado State University (2012). Validity.  Retrieved from

Gravetter, F. J., and Wallnau, L. B. (2011). Essentials of Statistics for the Behavioral Sciences (7th Edition). Belmont, CA: Thomson/Wadsworth.

Lesson 1: Introduction to work motivation and job attitudes. (2012). Informally published manuscript, World Campus, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Retrieved from

Lesson 2: Need theories. (2012). Informally published manuscript, World Campus, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Retrieved from

Redmond, B. (2012, January 19). Needs theories overview. Retrieved from Need Theories.


  1. I came across a URL that may be helpful to the needs theory discussion. The author introduces Herzberg's theory of job satifaction and compares it to Maslow's theory to assess the motivation of teachers.

  2. I rewrote/edited the case information section this morning.  Please review.  I'll be back this afternoon.

    1. those are all good questions you've added, Kim.  I worry that they may be too in-depth for what we are doing here though.  Just asking the question  "what is the impact..... (socially and emotionally) home, at work, and in the community?" requires 6 answers, all of which we need to back-up with research.

      Also, are we only writing about ERG theory?  Or would we like to add BNT or SDT theory?  

  3. I found the following quote to be an interesting thought to ponder with regard to basic and existence needs.

    "The history of civilization shows no people can well rise to a high degree of mental or even moral excellence without wealth. A people uniformly poor and compelled to struggle for barely an existence will be dependent and despised by their neighbors and finally despised themselves."

                                                                                                                      Fredrick Douglass

  4. I have edited the analysis section, but it needs a lot more work in terms of directly answering the questions raised at the start of the case.

  5. Hi,

    I just wanted to state, that IF we get too many questions we could dilute the original idea, and questions that we need to stick to and answer.  Can we stay in the scope of his work environment, and himself or his attitude in regards to ERG, and/or Maslow?  Not to take away from anyone's question valid that they may be, I am just concerned that we might wander to far off topic; or have to much information to give when trying to answer these (important but possibly over extending) questions.

    1. Cindy,

      I agree, we may need to edit the portion asking questions to limit the scope.  However, I am really glad Kim added them because it is a part of the overall assignment and it helps give us direction.  I added to the updated Maslow pyramid section of the main page today, filling in a little more information provided by Kenrick et al.

  6. Started on the intro :) Everything looks great so far besides the intro and conclusion not being done. I did do a two second edit I caught while writing but will actually do editing after I finish the intro. See you guys in about 6 hours to finish up the intro etc. :)

  7. I re-worked, retooled, reordered sentences, added material, and double checked on inline citations and the reference section.  ALL of the red citations need to be changed to BLACK when finalized.  I do this to highlight citations to ensure they're adequate and frequent during the writing phase.

    ADDITIONALLY, there are some RED comments in text in the paper which will need to be removed in the final product.

    I stopped working after an hour and 45 minutes at:  "According to a study by Arnolds and Boshoff (2002)…", second to end paragraph in the analysis section.

    It's coming along, for sure…but no where where it needs to be.  There is much to be done.  I'll be back later...

  8. I am here. Working. Been here for about an hour. Keep getting errors. Will brb

  9. Ok, just finished up the intro, I need to reword a few things too. Thank you Kim for the help! Like I sent out in the email I have a so many issues with blank screens but I am working through them! Also I have edited a few times the case info. I am going to take a break I have another class due today and will be back in a bit to see what else is going on :) 

  10. I just read through the entire project and edited the intro.  I am exhausted now!  I will be leaving in the morning and will not be able to respond to emails through the Angel system.  If anyone needs further assistance please feel free to email me at my personal email address: