An alternative approach to motivation was advanced by Abraham Maslow (1962, 1970). Humanistic psychologists such as Maslow emphasise dignity, individual choice and self-worth as playing key roles in explaining human behaviour. Maslow believed that people are motivated by the desire for personal growth above all other needs. He developed a needs hierarchy that has become famous in psychology and HR management.
According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, lower level needs, beginning with basic survival must be fulfilled before higher level needs guide a person’s behaviour. At the most basic level are physiological needs, such as for food and water. Next are the safety needs for security and protection. Having satisfied physiological and safety needs to some extent, people are motivated to pursue close connections with others, and to feel a sense of belonging. After feeling close to and accepted by others, people are then motivated by esteem needs, which includes not only self esteem (how you value your worth) but also other people’s esteem (how others value your worth).
Finally, at the highest level are the self-actualisation needs, motives to express oneself and grow, or to actualise one’s potential. Self-actualisation needs differ from all the previous levels in that they are not generated by a lack of something (food, shelter, closeness, the esteem of self and others). Rather, they are growth needs – motives to expand and develop one’s abilities and life purpose. Attaining this level of self-actualisation – what Jung referred to as self-realisation and the Buddhists as enlightenment – is something that few people actually reach; but it still a goal, whether consciously or unconsciously, that drives all humans.
Clayton Alderfer refined the aspects of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and condensed it into a version known as the ERG theory, which only contains three levels: existence, relatedness and growth.