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Summer 2012 Case


One of the most basic reasons for working is the need to earn a living.  This is a need that we  as individuals all have to fulfill.  And to do so, it is essential that we work.  The need for a certain amount of money comes from a person's lifestyle and circumstances.  A young, single adult for example, needs less money to support their basic needs than an older, married adult with children.  Therefore, the older adult has the need to earn a higher wage to support his or her family.  To meet these basic needs, employees are motivated to get promoted, receive a pay raise through performance, earn bonuses, or simply find employment with another employer that will satisfy their need for more income.  If the needs of the employee are not met by the employer, they may become disgruntled and find employment elsewhere.  Instead of falling behind in performance, which will lead to loss of income to meet their basic needs, the employee may leave the company for an opportunity to better meet their needs.  It is part of supervision's responsibility within the company to retain employees and in order to do so, they must ensure that the employees needs are met.


John is a father of two young children with a wife who is a stay at home mom.  The company he works for pays him a wage that is enough to support his family, however, he has just found out his wife is expecting another child.  John has to now reassess his needs.  Perhaps John needs a larger house, a larger vehicle, and more importantly, a larger income.  He has currently met the highest income potential in the current position he is currently working in and is aware that there is not sufficient room for promotion to a higher position within the company because all of the positions are filled.  Unless another employee loses his or her job, John is stuck in his current position.  Additionally, with the current economic situation, the company has  stopped performance bonuses and restricted overtime to save money.  In order to meet his need for a higher income, John needs to be promoted or seek employment elsewhere.  John is considered to be a good employee and his supervisor does not wish to lose him. However, John's personal needs outweigh the need his employer has to keep him employed in his current position without a promotion.  His supervisor must make a decision based on how much they need John as an employee and what they are willing to do to keep him a part of their company. John needs to decide how much of a higher income is necessary to meet his needs, and how he plans on fulfilling that need.

Analysis of Theories

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Theory

One of the earliest need theories was developed by clinical psychologist Abraham Maslow in 1943 and can still be used in many cases today. Maslow’s theory, known as the Hierarchy of Needs, is based off a diagram much like what we see today on the food pyramid used by the US Department of Agriculture. The idea of the pyramid, according to Maslow, is that the needs must be met on the lower levels, in order to build and move to the higher levels of need. This idea (known as fulfillment progression), states that if the lower needs aren’t met then they will be considered the prepotent need, or unmet need.  If there are unmet needs, the individual will not be able to progress forward to the next level of the pyramid. Maslow's hierarchy is divided into five parts, which are: Physiological, Safety, Love/Social, Esteem, and Self-Actualization. The basic-level needs according to Maslow include: Physiological, which are the biological needs a person need to survive; and Safety, which is a person’s need to protect one’s self. The Higher order needs are comprised of Love/Social, which is a person need to connect with others; Esteem, such as a person’s need for recognition for work done; and finally Self-Actualization, or the need to improve overall. Although this theory has been criticized, it still provides a basis for how an individuals personal needs work and can be very useful in cases such as John’s.

When examining John’s case with Maslow’s hierarchy, one can see that John has needs that fall into all the categories which makes his problem even tougher to ratify. With John’s increased cost of living due to his family’s growth, he faces problems such as providing food for his family (Physiological) and yielding enough space for his expanding family (Safety). Because John must consider the possibility of changing jobs this may also leave higher-order needs to be met. If John needs to relocate to a different area to provide for his family, he and his family will most likely find the need to make new friends and acquaintances (Love/Social). The final two needs also could play into John’s decision as his pride in providing for his family (Esteem) and his desire to give them the best possible life (Self-Actualization) could affect which path he chooses to take. John’s employer will have to weigh John’s needs into how they plan to handle the situation.

Existence Relatedness Growth (ERG) Theory

Inspired by Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, Alderfer’s (1969) ERG theory proposes that existence, relatedness, and growth allow for life-satisfaction and fulfillment. Existence is concrete and provides the basic needs of food and safety. Relatedness involves social interaction and relationships. Finally, growth is the idea of improvement or progression toward self-actualization. Rather than a hierarchical model whereby the lowest need must be met prior to advancing up the pyramid, the ERG theory allows for continuous movement between three needs. Thus, the ERG theory proposes a solution to Maslow’s
biggest barrier-- the ability to skip levels.
 Additionally, Alderfer ERG theory proposes the idea of frustration-regression whereby frustration occurs when needs are blocked (Redmond, 2012). As a result, regression is experienced and the previous level becomes the most important. Using the case study presented above, promotion is not possible and creates a barrier for John’s growth needs. As a result, John will become frustrated and place importance on the previous level, the relatedness need where he will likely find satisfaction in relationships with co-workers.

McClelland’s Need Theory

Expanding on the ideas of psychologist Henry A. Murray, David McClelland came up with a theory of motivation that contains three primary components: need for achievement (nACH), need for power (nPOW), and need for affiliation (nAFF). The concept behind his theory was to specialize one or more of these three needs to each individual.  By determining an employee’s exact needs, a supervisor should be able to better motivate his or her worker’s. Based on McClelland’s Needs Theory, those with a high nACH have a desire to take on challenging tasks and reach high individual standards of excellence. They typically prefer to work alone and are easily motivated by performance feedback. Those with a low nACH attempt to avoid personal responsibility and are often content to remain in an unchallenging position with less responsibility. Those with a high nPOW usually thrive in managerial positions, considering they love having authority over others. Unlike the people that display a low nPOW, they are independent and motivated to better their personal status and prestige. People with a strong nAFF typically have friendly relationships with others and enjoy working in groups. In contrast, those with a low nAFF care little about the feelings of others and tend to work alone. (Redmond 2012). 

When examining the case above, John’s strongest motivation is an increase in pay so that he can support the larger family that he is soon expecting. When looking into McClelland’s Theory, John has a high nACH. This is because he is willing to take on a greater individual challenge (i.e. promotion) so that he can reach a greater level of performance excellence. The case study does not include anything about his desire to manage or increase his personal prestige, so he would likely have a lower nPOW. Although John’s motivation is to better support his wife and two children, it does not appear that he is desperate to have a better social or work relationship with any of his coworkers. Therefore, John would have a low nAFF. If the manager were to use McClelland’s Theory of motivation, he should conclude that John has a high nACH, low nPOW, and low nAFF.

Application of Theories

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs Theory

When applying Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to John’s situation one begins to see the emphasis behind the idea of fulfillment progression. In this situation John will most likely focus mainly on his basic-level needs and the higher-order needs may be left unfilled. The main problem John faces is to maintain the standard of living he has provided for his family as they welcome another child to the family. The main reason John will be faced with the decision to possibly leave his current job is his need for more money to provide food, clothing and ample room for his growing family. John and ultimately his family will be faced with the possibility that they may have to put their social lives on hold while relocating. John may also be required to take a job that may pay more but has a lesser title, which could affect his Esteem, and Self-Actualization needs. The employer is faced with an equally daunting decision of how to handle the possibility of losing a good worker. To avoid losing John the company must figure out how to meet John’s basic-level needs even with their restricted number of options. First they may weigh the cost of a raise to meet John’s increasing need against the cost of replacing him. If a raise is out of the question they may have other options, such as helping John by reshaping his benefits to meet his needs of a growing family. The final option is for John and his family to reevaluate their current budget and try to save money to meet their financial needs. This could include cutting back on eating out, maybe take less expensive vacations, etc. Whatever John decides using the application of Maslow’s theory provides him and his family with options and he would be able to evaluate which of his needs are absolutely necessities to fulfill. 

Existence Relatedness Growth (ERG) Theory

John’s case exemplifies one of the exceptions to Alderfer’s notion of frustration-regression--when existence needs are blocked, the more intense this need becomes (Redmond, 2012). Because John has the demanding responsibility to support his growing family, he needs to find a new position that will allow him more income to provide food, water, and shelter. That is, before John fulfills his relatedness need, he must first resolve the obligation of providing existence needs. Even if his supervisor assesses John’s needs and provides him with opportunities for social relationships, John will still experience frustration until existence needs are met. That said, John will make the decision to find a position in another company that will provide him with the income necessary to support the expense of his growing family.

McClelland's Need Theory

When relating McClelland’s Need Theory to John’s financial situation, there are three factors that can be taken into consideration. John is a hard worker; his work ethic and motivation can be better defined in terms of McClelland’s Need Theory. First, John shows high regard for the need of achievement. Therefore, John shows motivation to constantly increase his standards of work quality. Second, John does not seem to want to take on the responsibility of a managerial position, which results in him having a minimal need for power. Finally, this case study does not point out that John has any close relationships with his coworkers, which is an indicator of his low need for affiliation. When looking at John's situation, it is evident that something has to change in his work life to better fulfill the needs of his family. Since John shows strength in his need for achievement, his best plan of action is to seek a job that allows him to progress into higher paying positions. Those with a high need of achievement usually have desires to attempt challenging tasks, work in solitary and receive performance feedback. John needs a job that satisfies his strengths. At his current place of employment, John simply doesn't have any opportunities that will further his career. If he were to remain at his current job, he would be forced to wait until a higher paying position opened up. By prolonging his stay, he would begin to suffer financially when his new born child arrives. Although the manager does not want to find a replacement for John's valuable work, he must understand that there is nothing that can be done to resolve John's family matters. Sometime's, losing an employee is beyond a supervisor's control. In this case, the supervisor understands John's needs, but cannot fulfill them, seeing as he cannot give him a raise or promotion. Based on this case, it is in John's best interest to find another job that will pay better. This would fulfill his personal need for achievement and improve the life of his family. 


In conclusion, John will eventually have to find another job to meet his family needs. John fears that he will be unable to support his family once his third child arrives. According to the case study, Maslow’s theory relates to John best in the physiological category, considering that John’s primary concern is to provide additional income. A better salary will allow him make the food and utility payments that will keep his wife and children alive and comfortable. In addition to survival, John is also worried about keeping his family safe. He wants to be able to afford a larger house and car. Love/social interaction is not an issue for John since he is appears satisfied with both his work and personal relationships. Considering John already has two children and his wife is a stay at home mom, his employee relations and personal life should be stable, though he would most likely enjoy having an adequate supply of time off to spend with his family. John’s esteem will eventually become stagnant as he will max out his potential and praise at his current position to no avail for his needs. Lastly, his self-actualization will decrease because he is not able to achieve his desired goals due to the economic downturn that is forcing his job to restrict bonuses and overtime pay.

When John’s job is compared to the E-R-G theory, similar conflicts are presented as in the Maslow theory. John’s growth will be the most indecisive as the stresses of two children, a future child, a dead-end job, and the reality of having no financial/positional promotion opportunities will regress his growth back to relatedness needs. Many people usually start taking their problems out with someone in hopes that they can lend advice or support. John  will eventually regress from relatedness to existence as he realizes that his job is not providing him with the opportunity to satisfy the needs of his family. Therefore, there will be no progression and little satisfaction between John and his job.

McClellands needs theory relates to John the least out of the three. John does not relate to McClelland's need for affiliation because his predicament has nothing to do with seeking the approval of others or maintaining social interaction at work. McClelland's need for power theory does not apply to John either because he is not conflicted with trying to control others behaviors or influence them. The only theory of McClelland's that relates to John is the need for achievement because John now has a reason for personal improvement and self-success, therefore, will work harder to benefit these motivations. Based on these needs, John will be forced into searching for a new job, considering that the economic downturn at his place of employment will not provide him with opportunities to advance before the new baby arrives.


Alderfer, C. P. (1969). An empirical test of a new theory of humans needs. Organizational Behavior and Human Performance, 4, 142-175.  
Redmond, B.F. (2012). Need Theories: What Do I Want When I Work? Work Attitudes and Motivation. The Pennsylvania State University World Campus.

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