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Needs Theories explain that humans behave and respond to situations based on innate, and most times subconscious, needs.  Some needs are physiologically based and others are psychologically based. Human needs motivate thoughts and actions. It is important to acknowledge four needs theories: Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, ERG Theory, McClelland’s Needs Theory, and Basic Needs Theory. These theories will be applied to a case below.



Company XYZ, a previous employer of one of our team members, has recently gone through some changes affecting employees both in management and non-managerial positions. These changes have mostly come in the form of “doing more with less”, including employees in each division while maintaining the current volume of work. While changes of this nature are difficult for the employees, managers as well must decide how to accomplish the existing goals while avoiding loss of people through burn out and retaining the most valuable employees that have been kept on.

One such manager is Jim, a manager of multiple others who has worked for the company for a number of years in his existing position. Before the changes, Jim’s division employed 22 workers, that has now been cut down to only 12. Jim’s goals at this point have not changed; he must maintain the current workload and be as efficient as possible with his reduced staff. Although there is already much change within the company, Jim feels that he is ready for a promotion. He knows that attaining this goal will require enhanced effort on his part as well as working longer hours, but feels up to the necessary requirements.

This case study is designed to look at the application of various needs theories to Jim’s case to determine which of the variety discussed in class fits Jim’s “need” to be promoted to a higher level position within his company while maintain his current group’s goals and keeping staff both harmonious as well as efficient in their tasks.

Maslow's Theory

According to Maslow, there are five categories of needs which he organized into an order ranging from basic needs to higher-order needs.  The basic level needs include physiological needs, such as the need for food for survival and basic safety needs such as the need for a safe environment and need for protection.  As you move up Maslow’s hierarchy, you begin to see higher level needs such as social needs, esteem, or the need for recognition, and finally self actualization need, or the "the desire to become . . . everything that one is capable of becoming" (PSU WC, 2014, L-2, p. 3).   Jim’s basic level needs are already being fulfilled and his current needs fall into higher-order needs. 

Currently Jim’s social needs are being met as he has being doing the same job with his employees for some time.  But Jim does have some proponent needs, or unmet needs.  This includes esteem and self-actualization.  He wants a promotion at the company.  This promotion would allow the company to recognize Jim and give him a higher position in the company which commands more respect.  He is also motivated by the self-actualization need as a promotion will allow Jim to progress in his career and allow him to do more with his job, or in essence become everything he can be in his career.  Esteem and actualization are motivational factors for Jim because of fulfillment progression.  Every needs lower on the hierarchy have been fulfilled, therefore the higher level needs are activated within Jim (PSU WC, 2014, L-2, p. 4).

 By applying Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Theory, we can see that Jim is motivated for this promotion due to the promotion fulfilling two higher-order needs coupled with the fact that his lower order and social needs are being currently met.  



Alderfer's ERG theory involves 3 categories, versus five in Maslow's hierarchy of needs. The needs in ERG theory are related in a continuous fashion in contrast to Maslow's which is a hierarchy. As the lesson commentary suggests, existence needs are concrete and basic needs like food, water, and shelter; relatedness needs are social and involve personal relationships; growth needs are abstract because they don't involve physical objects. 

Frustration-regression is also component of ERG theory. The needs work in a continuum, so it is possible to move back and forth between the needs categories. Frustration-regression occurs when needs are not met and people regress back to concrete needs. 

Unlike in Maslow's needs theory, to properly use the ERG theory for our case study, Jim does not have to meet existence and relatedness needs in order to fulfill his growth need. The promotion would represent satisfaction of the growth need for Jim. Yet, based on the organizational changes and downsizing of the staff, it is necessary that Jim keep his staff's needs fulfilled as well. Without the same level of production, Jim's opportunity for advancement will be diminished and he could suffer from frustration-regression. From an opposite perspective, Jim must also be aware that once his promotion is earned and his growth need is satisfied, this will lead to greater growth needs, for example, another promotion or growth and expansion of his staff (PSU WC, 2014, L-2, p. 6).



Applying McClelland's Need Theory

When applying McClelland’s Needs Theory to Jim’s current work situation, it is evident that Jim has a need for achievement (nAch). Jim has a personal goal of obtaining a better position in his workplace. His primary focus is making sure his 12 employees perform well so that he can become a strong candidate for the promotion he desires.  As stated in the Psych 484 Lesson 2 Commentary, “People who have a high nAch are motivated by opportunities for personal improvement and self-success.” (PSU WC, 2014, L-2, p. 8)

It was explained in the Lesson 2 Commentary that those that demonstrate a strong need for power (nPow) make better managers. (PSU WC, 2014, L-2, p. 9) Jim has managed 22 individuals for years and now he will have to motivate 12 employees to do the job of what 22 employees managed, at one point. It is important to note that “needs are learned.” (PSU WC, 2014, L-2, p. 8) Jim may have a strong, natural disposition to have a high nAch but it is possible that he was trained to have a robust nPow.

Jim will have to exercise his nPow to get the most out of his 12 employees. He will have to influence his employees to be motivated to complete and excel under the demands of their excessive workloads. It would also be important to note the needs of each of his employees to ensure that he does maximize his benefits from his employees. Placing each employee in a role that satisfies their individual needs will help with capitalize on the limited manpower of the team.

Jim may want to avoid demonstrating a need for affiliation (nAff). If he focuses on developing relationships with others, this may impair his chances of getting his desired promotion.  He cannot seek approval or become involved in the wishes of others. (PSU WC, 2014, L-2, p. 8) Those that have a high nAff tend to demonstrate poor managerial skills, therefore, displaying a nAff would impede the attainment of his personal goal of advancing in his career. (PSU WC, 2014, L-2, p. 9)


Adie (2008) “Basic needs Theory” hinges on the basic psychological needs human require. The three basic needs consist of the innate needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness. The autonomy refers to human desire for self-governance and being in control of one’s destiny. The competence aspect refers an individual’s sense of mastery in their environment. Finally, relatedness refers to the sense of harmonic attachment to others.

In Jim’s situation, he is struggling with autonomy because of his desire promotion after 12 years employment in the same position.  The circumstances downsizing increase the burden of achieving that goal thus disrupting Jim’s sense of well-being.  Ryan Deci (2000b;2001) postulated that well-being is not the absence of pain/displeasure  but  self-realization and the degree to which a person is functioning optimally in particular  context ( as cited by, Adie et. al 2008).            

Jim’s sense of competency is at an optimal level even with the new challenges of a smaller department. Where he might find a problem is in his level of relatedness. Many staff will be upset seeing their co-worker’s positions eliminated. This loss of staff can result in both resentment towards management and disengagement in work duties. This will undoubtedly affect the harmonic balance Jim has been able to maintain over his tenure as leader in that department.



 There are many needs that can motivate anyone to do better.  It can be a need for esteem like Maslow suggests or a need for existence like in Alderfer’s ERG theory.  Someone could have a need for power (nPow) like cited by McClelland or any one of the three innate needs listed within the Basic Needs Theory.  Whatever those might be, it is clear that those drives are what motivate everyone to achieve their goals.  In the case of Jim, no matter which theory is looked at, there is always a need that is motivating him towards promotion.  All four theories show, that with all else constant, Jim will also succeed in achieving his goals at Company XYZ.  




Adie, Duda, and Ntoumanis (2008) Autonomy support, basic need satisfaction and the optimal functioning of adult male and female sport participants: A test of basic needs theory. Motivation & Emotion,32, 189-199.

Pennsylvania State University World Campus (2014). Psych 484 Lesson 2 : Needs Theories: What Do I Want When I Work? Retrieved from





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