Content theory

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Content theory explains why human needs change with time. Content theory includes the work of David McClelland, Abraham Maslow and other psychologists as they attempted to explain why human needs change, but not how they change.[citation needed] They explain the specific factors that motivate behavior. None of these theories have been conclusively shown to be valid but they are helpful in providing a contextual framework for dealing with individuals.[according to whom?]

McGregor’s Theory X and Theory Y[edit]

Douglas McGregor proposed two different motivational theories.[1] Managers tend to believe one or the other and treat their employees accordingly. Theory X states that employees dislike and try to avoid work, so they must be coerced into doing it. Most workers do not want responsibilities, lack ambition, and value job security more than anything else.

McGregor personally held that the more optimistic theory, Y, was more valid. This theory holds that employees can view work as natural, are creative, can be self-motivated, and appreciate responsibility. This type of thinking is popular now, with self-empowered work teams becoming the norm[citation needed].

ERG theory[edit]

ERG Theory was created by Clayton Alderfer as an extension to the famous Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs.[2] Existence, or physiological, needs are at the base. These include the needs for things such as food, drink, shelter, and safety. Next come Relatedness Needs, the need to feel connected to other individuals or a group. These needs are fulfilled by establishing and maintaining relationships.

At the top of the hierarchy are Growth Needs, the needs for personal achievement and self-actualization. If a person is continually frustrated in trying to satisfy growth needs, relatedness needs will remerge. This phenomenon is known as the frustration-regression process.

Herzberg’s Motivation-Hygiene theory (Two-factor theory)[edit]

Frederick Herzberg felt that job satisfaction and dissatisfaction do not exist on the same continuum, but on dual scales. In other words, certain things, which Herzberg called hygiene factors, could cause a person to become unhappy with their job. These things, including pay, job security, and physical work environment, could never bring about job satisfaction. Motivating factors, on the other hand, can increase job satisfaction. Giving employees things such as a sense of recognition, responsibility, or achievement can bring satisfaction about.[3]

Need theory[edit]

David McClelland proposed a context for understanding needs in people, which holds significance in understanding motivations and behaviors. It is subdivided into three categories: the Need for Achievement, the Need for Affiliation, and the Need for Power.[4]

The Need for Achievement refers to the notion of getting ahead and succeeding. The Need for Affiliation is the desire to be around people and be well received socially. It also includes the desire for being a member in a group and conformity. The Need for Power is the desire for control over others and over yourself. It confers the need to be able to exercise direction in the world surrounding you, and cause things to happen. Individuals who have high needs for achievement will tend to engage in competitive activities in order to fulfil this desire. Individuals who need to feel affiliated will tend to join clubs, groups and teams to satiate that want. Individuals who have the need for power will seek activities which likewise satisfy this need, such as, to run for high positions in organizations and to seek out opportunities to exercise that dominance.

This is not to say that one person cannot have needs spanning all three categories. A person may have the need for affiliation at the same time they have the need for power. While this may initially seem contradictory, there are instances where both needs can be fulfilled. Also, timing may connote different strengths of needs at different moments. So, while a person may strongly feel the need to affiliate during times of loneliness, they may at another time feel the strong need for power when instructed to organize an event. Needs may arise and be changed out of a change of context.


  • McGregor, D. (1960). The human side of enterprise. New York, 21.
  • ^ "Theory X and Theory Y: Understanding People's Motivations". Retrieved 2019-10-17.
  • ^ "Summary of ERG Theory - Clayton P. Alderfer. Abstract". Retrieved 2019-10-17.
  • ^ "Herzberg's Motivators and Hygiene Factors: Learn how to Motivate Your Team". Retrieved 2019-10-17.
  • ^ "McClelland - Theory of Needs". Retrieved 2019-10-17.