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One process theory of motivation

Motivation is great part of today’s management. However, “most organizations don’t give it much thought until something starts to go wrong. Pain gets people’s attention.” _(Sanjeev Sharma)_ Therefore it is important to motivate because motivation is force behind all human actions _(Sanjeev Sharma)_. Manager must be able to realize and fulfil the most urgent needs of employees as well as other needs to keep than satisfied, free from stress, and highly motivated. Satisfied and motivated employees are value because they will be less likely to quit the job therefore reducing staff turnover and cost of employee training as they will have gained all the necessary skills and experience, so their performance will be good, therefore companies overall performance can rise as well.

This essay is focused on the exploration and comparison of Alderfer’s and Adams’ theories. It seeks the answers to what makes them fall in different category and yet what are the similarities between them and, furthermore, how they can be used together to achieve greater efficiency and to leave less for the chance of error or uncertainty when motivating the employee.

Many people have studied needs and ways of motivating the employees. Theories on this subject can be very different and are divided into two categories – content and process theories. Content theories stress that every one of us has same set of needs, which must be satisfied. One of the first and most influential content theories is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (1954). This theory states that human needs are formed similar to pyramid with 5 levels, where bottom level must be completed to move to the next level.

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Five levels are: 1. Psychological (food, shelter, clothe), 2. Security needs, 3. Social needs, 4. Self-esteem (recognition and self-belief), 5. self-actualization (develop one’s full potential). (R. Fincham, P Rhodes, 2005 p.195) One similar to Maslow’s is ERG (Existence, Relatedness, and Growth) theory developed by Alderfer (1972).

Alderfer’s theory says that everybody has 3 sets of needs. Existence, which includes food, shelter, clothes, need to feel safe and similar (Maslow’s 1st and 2nd levels). Relatedness – social activities, family, friendly working environment, etc (Maslow’s 3rd and 4th levels). Growth – recognition from supervisors and managers, occasional bonuses or rise in salary, promotion, etc (Maslow’s 4th and 5th levels). Although it looks like the Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs with less and more compact sets of needs, there is one important difference – there is no order specified in which these needs must be satisfied. _(Fincham, Rhodes, 2005)_ However, as Kotler et al 2005, points out if one has unsatisfied need, one will try to find something that satisfies it or tries to get rid of the need. This relates to the Frustration – Regression principle in Alderfer’s theory while when the need has been satisfied it also is strengthened (as illustrated in chart below) _(12manage.com_). However, with the passage of time and possible changes in lifestyle or other circumstances can force one to come back to needs that have been satisfied in past and set new, more demanding needs to meet the needs of current situation.

Companies has limited influence on Existence set of needs, other than providing rates of pay which enables worker to pay all the bills and supply family with enough food, and still have some extra spending money left (there are cases where ‘worker villages’ have been built in order to provide workers with accommodation and everything necessary, as to provide for existence needs and ultimately have some control of workers lives as well). However, there are many possible ways of satisfying Relatedness and Growth sets of needs. Relatedness could be satisfied by ensuring friendly and open working conditions, possibly non-work related social activities with co-workers, extra holidays to spend with families. Growth is arguably the most important and the most work related one. Growth is almost entirely dependant on supervisors, as for example rise and promotion. Also praise and recognition from supervisor will be much more effective than ones from co-workers, although being recognized as unofficial leader by co-workers is strongly motivating and satisfying.

Process theories however, admit that we all are different and therefore have different needs. Further more they focus on way employees see themselves in the company, the way they are treated in respect of the other employees in regard of their effort and performance. Adams’ Equity theory explores inputs and outputs of a worker and tries to set the balance between them. Inputs represent the effort and performance worker puts in his job like dedication, long hours, high efficiency and outputs on the other hand, represent all he wants to receive for that like recognition from supervisors in form of praise or rise in salary, promotion, bonuses and similar. Adams stresses that keeping balance between inputs and outputs is very important as in case of imbalance worker can loose self-esteem, motivation or come under pressure to perform better, therefore coming under stress, which will inevitably lead to fall in performance. Although feeling of being overpaid is not widely studied it is believed that the negative effect of the feeling wears of shortly and has little effect on the worker, _(SIOP)_ however has impact on other workers who might feel underpaid or undervalued.

Therefore, all extra inputs must be balanced with extra outputs. Nevertheless one must not forget that first of all employees will compare themselves to co-workers. If one employee will have high rewards, for example have a rise, than others will look for justification for that. In case that none is found others will feel neglected therefore their performance will drop or they will ask for the rise, or encourage other (the one who receives higher rewards) to work harder, or convince themselves that they are not worth the higher reward _(SIOP)._ Some of these outcomes are potentially mentally dangerous therefore create stress in the workplace or even worse crate tension between workforce which can lead to different unwanted outcomes even such as strikes out violence outbursts. This inevitably means that overall performance of the company will drop. _(Fincham, Rhodes, 2005)_

The main difference between these theories lies in the fact that Alderfer’s one focuses on satisfaction of needs whereas Adams’ one focuses on creating good and balanced relationship between inputs and outputs of the worker and more importantly good relationship and equality between co-workers, and fairness from the supervisor. It is not specified in Alderfer’s theory exactly how to determine when is the best time to motivate the employee nor why, while on the other hand Adams’ theory is more concerned about when and why to motivate the employee. This shows clearly that these two theories are completely different in their basis. Furthermore part of Alderfer’s theory is Frustration – Regression principle in which an unsatisfied need is being regressed and made up by satisfying more other needs. In some respects similarly with Adams’ theory – if balance is unfair than employees will feel discomfort. Both of these will take employees mind of the duties of work which will lead in fall of performance.

Alderfer’s and Adams’ theories both point out the need of balance between things, however each theory puts stress on different things. Alderfer suggests that needs of employee must be equally satisfied between each of the three sets, therefore no need are neglected. However, as mentioned before, a need can be neglected if it has been recently satisfied. On the other hand if one need or set of needs is recently satisfied, it stands above others in level of satisfaction, which therefore makes it reasonable for it to be neglected until other needs reach same level of satisfaction. This process can take up some time and does not require immediate levelling of scales, however Adams’ scales should be levelled at all times. Longer the process of the levelling takes, longer the employees feel the discomfort of injustice which will inevitably lead to employee’s satisfaction or motivation dropping or level of stress rising.

In fact Alderfer’s theory could easily become a part of Adams’ theory as a way of determining outputs, for example friendly relationships in workplace is part of Relatedness set of needs and output, which management has provided. Alderfer does not relate to inputs in his theory. This fact makes Adams’ theory more sophisticated and better suited for understanding when and why employee should be awarded. Because if manager is looking to improve worker motivation and job satisfaction he/she can see on one scale the inputs worker has done from where in comparison to co-workers inputs and outputs an appropriate output can be made. However in order to do the comparison of employee’s past and co-worker present performances, they have to be constantly monitored and records kept of the of the information. Using Alderfer’s theory, however, requires manager to understand employee’s needs and situation to see which needs must be satisfied and what would be the best way to satisfy the need, therefore bringing greater understanding of how and why to award or motivate employee.

Adams’s theory is good theory to be using for large companies with many users which all have to be motivated. With help of large and detailed database of workers and their inputs, such as working time, are they late for work or not, their performance, etc and outputs their wages, ways of recognition, etc one can compare workers. Special program can be easily made and adjusted to record and analyse data for independent, non favouring, information on workers which would help to make decisions on their extra outputs. On the other hand Alderfer’s theory would more go for managerial level or smaller companies as it requires in-depth understanding of employee and his situation.

If one would put these two theories together the outcome could be a theory in which workers activity is constantly monitored and recorded for purposes of comparison with previous performance and performance of co-workers, therefore, determining the inputs as by Adams’ theory. However, the outputs would be determined according to the needs specified in Alderfer’s theory. Alderfer’s theory could also be substituted, for example, by Hertzberg’s two-factor theory.

Although content and process theories are different in their basis, they both work for the same goal and in times can be combined or as in this case content theory can be a part of process theory to explain it more fully and efficiently or just to bring the highest level of efficiency. However, besides the fact Alderfer’s theory can be used to compliment the Adams’ theory, one must not forget that most important part of Adams’ theory is far from just motivating the employee but is based on equality among workers and their inputs/outputs, because too much outputs can produce feeling of overpayment therefore creating stress for employee as he/she tries to increase inputs to level the scales. “Alderfer’s theory explores which need to satisfy and how while Adams’ theory explores when and why to satisfy the need.” Previous sentence is very good way of explaining the difference between two theories and seeing that in order for each theory to work in best way possible – both theories must work together.



P. Kotler, V. Wong, J. Saunders, G. Armstrong, _Principles of Marketing,_ (2005 4th European Edition) p. 8, published by Pearson Education Ltd, Harlow, England

R. Fincham, P. Rhodes, _Principles of Organizational Behaviour,_ (2005, 4th Edition) Published by Oxford University Press, New York, United States


Sanjeev Sharma, A right way to motivate an employee, is to win his heart!!! [online] url: Accessed: 24/11/05 _ERG Theory (Alderfer)_[online] url: Accessed:24/11/05

Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology inc. (SIOP), _Justice lecture notes 4,_[online]

url: Accessed: 26/11/05

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One process theory of motivation. (2016, Jul 04). Retrieved from

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