Motivating Employees: Maslow, Alderfer, and Organizational Culture

Victor Holman claims that employee motivation fuels employee productivity which leads to greater organizational profit (Holman, 2012). He advocates that employers use one or more of Maslow’s five basic needs to motivate employees (physical, security, belonging, esteem, and/or self-actualization). Holman also explains that fear is a powerful motivator, warning against its use. In general, all of Maslow’s basic needs can be satisfied. Therefore, Holman encourages employers to motivate employees using growth needs, needs that are not easily satisfied (growth in esteem, growth in self-actualization, etc.).

As an P-12 educator, we often apply Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to teaching and learning. Another motivational theory that we don’t often consider is Alderfer’s ERG theory (Kreitner & Kinicki, 2013, p. 208). In many aspects, I find it more effective to apply the ERG theory to the field of education. Alderfer’s existence, relatedness and growth needs play out well in the classroom and in the school. For example, both students and educators benefit from having “meaningful relationships” between each other and amongst their peers. Also, in terms of growth needs, teaching and learning is largely about growing as human beings and using one’s abilities to their fullest potential.

An organization’s culture also impacts employee motivation. McGregor and Doshi (2015) explain that “culture can’t be left to chance.” “Leaders have to treat culture building as an engineering discipline, not a magical one” (McGregor and Doshi, 2015).

As organizational leaders, we must recruit and retain a motivated workforce. We can turn to multiple motivational theories and proactively design a motivating organizational culture.


Holman, V. (2012, November 28). Retrieved March 25, 2017, from

Kreitner, R. & Kinicki, A.  (2013). Organizational behavior (10th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Publishing Company.

McGregor, L., & Doshi, N. (2015, November 25). How Company Culture Shapes Employee Motivation. Retrieved March 25, 2017, from