ERG Theory as Applied in the Police Force


Workplace motivation remains to be an issue of paramount importance to any organization. Although the concept of workplace motivation has been associated with corporate and commercial sector companies, there is a growing need to encompass motivational approaches at the government agencies to ensure that workers in these agencies deliver to the best of their abilities. To achieve employees’ motivation, organizations have been known to use varied motivational approaches. All this approaches have one major target, that of improving workplace performance and workers condition. This paper examines how motivation of employees is applied at the Los Angeles Police Department. In doing this, the paper will examine how the police department applies one of the motivation theories to improve workplace conditions. To understand the motivational approaches at the aforementioned police department, the paper examines the applicability of the ERG theory of motivation advanced by Alderfer. The paper also seeks to establish whether the systems that have been put in place by the Los Angeles Police Department as far as employee motivation is concerned are productive or counterproductive.

Overview of the ERG theory

The ERG theory is accredited to the work of Clayton Alderfer whose contribution to organization behavior remains to be of irrefutable importance. ERG is an acronym for Existence, Relatedness and Growth which, according to Alderfer, they are hierarchies of human needs that motivate people to satisfy them. The theory is an improvement of the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs theory and it stipulates that employee behavior is normally motivated simultaneously by different level of needs. An employee may seek to satisfy the growth needs simultaneously with the relatedness needs. However, just like in the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the theory asserts that one level of need preoccupies a person’s desire at a time more than other levels of needs. For instance, the existence needs may preoccupy the person, but once satisfied, the next category of need becomes more important.

Although the ERG theory is a counter-reaction of the Maslow’s theory, it comes up with an important element of motivation. Alderfer identifies the concept of Frustration-regression process where he explained that once certain needs are deemed unachievable or they get frustrated, a person regresses to the next lower level of need. A person who manages to fulfill the existence and relatedness needs, but is unable to reach the growth needs becomes frustrated and the relatedness needs take precedence as the dominant motivators. The person therefore advances towards advancing interpersonal relationships as growth needs such as career growth has been blocked. The effectiveness at the workplace therefore is only motivated by the number of positive approvals that the person may get from peers regardless of the nature of the action that triggers the approvals. The frustrated needs therefore may inhibit the growth of the affected person such that the person concentrates on the lower needs.

Continued frustration of a specific category of need would further lead to regression such that one moves down the hierarchy of needs. The theory has been greatly hailed for its role in elimination of the repetitive nature of Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Although the two theories have been known to use a pyramid-like structure to diagrammatically represent their categories of human needs, the ERG theory can be represented diagrammatically as follows.

A diagrammatic representation of the ERG theory
A diagrammatic representation of the ERG theory.

How the theory is applied at the Los Angeles Police Department

Employee motivation remains one of the paramount issues at the Los Angeles police department. The police department is known for its efforts to motivate its workers while ensuring the required levels of police discipline is maintained. There are several approaches that have been put in place by the Los Angeles Police Department as far as improvement of the workers’ productivity is concerned. Scaling the efforts of the police department with the benchmarks put in place by Alderfer’s ERG theory, the police department is known for its good remuneration for its staff. Although Robbins & Judge, (2009) points out that remuneration may not be the main motivator for employees, the starting salaries at the Los Angeles Police Department stands at $45,226. As a starting salary, this amount is way above the amounts paid by many employers in other industries.

Going by the theory’s hierarchy of needs, the first tire of needs deals with existence needs which entails the provision of the basic needs such as shelter, food comfort, housing among other needs. With a good salary offered by the police department, the police officers can satisfy their fundamental needs from their basic pay. Koontz and Weihrich, (2006), note that remunerating employees better than other competitors makes them have an extrinsic motivator that makes them stand out in the industry. Setting a startup wage way above the national minimum wage allows the Los Angeles Police Department to ensure that its officers are well motivated as they can comfortably meet their existence needs with a surplus amount that can be effective in advancing the relatedness needs.

As far as the relationship of the relatedness needs and compensation are concerned, Jain (2006) points out that once people satisfy their basic needs and still remains with some surplus to spare, they use this surplus to expand their social capital and enhance the quality of their lives. The spared surplus is used in social circles which greatly advances the needs to belong to a specific community. The Los Angeles police department further motivates its workers to desire to satisfy the needs in the relatedness tire by remunerating the officers in all of its departments handsomely.

The police department also has taken other measures to guarantee employee motivation. As noted by Jain (2006), employers should provide forums that encompass the holistic nature of their workers. What Jain means is that workers should be provided with forums that encourage them to come out with their families for the purposes of socialization. This attribute has been taken care-off by the police department by ensuring that there are forums that bring together the officers and their families. Such measures include family social forums that include the common religious gatherings among other common areas that encourage the officers to be with their family members. When matched to the ERG theory of motivation, it is notable that the second tire of needs greatly depends on interpersonal relationships. Forums that enhance social capital are considered to be of great essence as they play a crucial role in worker’s motivation. The police department therefore has recognized the need for social capital which plays an important role in workplace motivation.

The Los Angeles Police department also enhances social capital among officers through various workplace communication channels. The accountability process that has been put in place at the police department is in line with the ERG motivational needs. Like in the New York police department, the Los Angeles Police Department uses the COMPSTAT philosophy of management that approaches the police work in a multilayered as well as dynamic manner with the main aim being reduction of crime, improvement of quality of life and finally the improvement of personnel and resource management.

Although the COMPSTAT philosophy is purely a police management approach, it has contributed greatly in workplace motivation as it provides the police officers with relevant forums that encourage workplace interactions where main work issues are ironed out. Such forums include weekly meetings that ensure that officers deliberate on job related issues including the improvement of the work processes. Such accountability meetings held periodically provide effective communication channels that ensure that the officers have a channel to air their opinions over a specific issue. Communication avenues at the workplace have been cited by Robbins and Judge, (2009) as major contributors of a motivated workforce. The relatedness needs cannot be advanced in scenarios that are devoid of effective communication channels. This means that the establishment of an effective COMPSTAT management philosophy at the Los Angeles Police Department has aided greatly in promoting the workplace motivation.

Another motivational approach that has been adopted by the police department has been living by its motto. The motto, which is “To Protect and to Serve”, creates an intonation of servant leadership that is effective in management of police affairs. Successive leadership has been living by this motto whereby leaders serve in their capacities diligently with their main intention being service delivery. The servant leadership approach has been vital in workers’ motivation as the leaders are approachable which improves work relations. The approachable nature of the management further aids in advancing the relatedness needs as advanced by the ERG theory of motivation.

Workplace recognition has been pointed out by Robbins and Judge, (2009) as one of the most effective motivation approaches at the disposal of any management. This is because the recognition of positive attribute makes the workers recognize that someone takes note of their efforts and thus they get motivated to work harder. In support of this view, Arnolds and Boshoff, (2002) assert that when a worker is recognized for the efforts that have been put in the process of executing a specified task, the worker gets the motivation to work harder next time. It is this form of motivation that the proponent of the ERG theory called the growth needs. According to Alderfer cited in Griffin and Moorhead, (2009), recognizing workers provide them with the notion that they have the ability to take even higher responsibilities and thus they develop a sense of responsibility. Workers also realize that they have a potential to advance professionally which further makes it possible for the workers to reach their desired professional growth.

At Los Angeles Police Department, there are several coveted reward systems that have been put in place to recognize exemplary performance by officers of different categories. One such award is the Collision Investigator of the Year award which awards the prestigious status of being the investigator of the year to a specific police officer who exemplifies excellent investigation approaches. The award which went to Police officer II Joseph Cha in 2010 recognizes an officer’s commitment to the community, his seniors and peers as well as to all his other direct stakeholders. The award also seeks to recognize officers who stick to the core values of the police department especially service to the community and seek to improve the general livelihood levels of their assigned areas (Los Angeles Police Department1, 2011).

Another recognition given to exemplary officers is the award that recognizes the best performer in the traffic department. In 2010, the award was scooped by police officer Fernando Lopez who was recognized for his efforts of saving many lives due to his vigilance in ensuring that dangerous driving was put at its minimum. Apart from this award, the Los Angeles police department allows and further recognizes officers that are recognized by outside bodies. A clear example is the award that was given to police officer Fernando Lopez from the Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) for his efforts in arresting drunk drivers. Recognizing awards from outside the police department aids is further motivating police officers (Los Angeles Police Department2).

The above-mentioned reward schemes are essential for the highest order of needs as identified by Alderfer’s ERG theory. According to the theory, once the existence and the relatedness needs are satisfied, workers develop a desire for career growth and self actualization (Robbins & Judge, 2009). Putting in place approaches that allow the police officers to be given awards due to their exemplary performance is an effective way that creates esteem and social clout to the best officers. The level of prestige that this titles command can be used as a source of self actualization as they are a confirmation of the legacy that an officer is leaving behind in the force. Personal achievement has been cited by Hoffmann, (2007) as a good way of fostering the self-esteem of the officers and thus the reward system that has been put in place by the police department is in line with the ERG theory of motivation.

Apart from the identified awards, the Los Angeles police department provides the officers with career progression chances which further motivate the workers. This allows them to satisfy the growth needs that are identified by the ERG theory. Career progression, as noted by Jain (2006), remains an important element to any employee and thus management must ensure that they provide avenues that guarantee workers growth chances. The combination of career progression and general growth in the police profession therefore has been a constant motivator as it reinforces the esteem of the police officers while at the same time plays a pivotal role in building their self esteem. Therefore, it is evident that the Los Angeles police department has utilized the ERG theory of motivation in motivating its workforce.


However, despite the enumerated positive efforts that have been advanced by the police department, there are some areas that the management should work on to ensure that the motivation approaches at the department are all encompassing. To begin with, the management should take cognizance that human beings are motivated by a combination of different categories of needs as opposed to one category of needs at a time. This means that the police department should create more motivators for the officers. Such measures shall ensure that there are no suppressed needs among the officers as the existing motivating awards and chances especially those that deal with esteem and self actualization of officers are too limited and thus can only recognize a minute population of officers at a time. Increasing the levels of recognition will aid in officer’s motivation. Besides this measure, such an increase would greatly aid in new motivation for the regressing officers who may have regressed after their desire to reach the higher needs were hampered by varying factors. The police department should therefore come up with more measures to motivate workers especially on issues that deal with the relatedness and growth factors of motivation.


From the analysis, it is evident that the Los Angeles police department clearly understands the essence of workers motivation. The police department has utilized the ERG theory of motivation effectively to ensure that its officer’s remains motivated so that their workplace productivity is boosted. To cater for the existence needs that occupy the lowest hierarchy in the ERG theory, the police department provides its employees with a good compensation that is way above the recommended average wage. The second hierarchy of needs is further satisfied by different forums such as the COMPSTAT management philosophy that takes note of the importance of effective communication in the desire to eliminate crime and other social evils in the society. To cater for the highest caliber of needs, the police department has put in place mechanisms that motivate the employees through promotions, career progression, adequate additional training and finally through outstanding recognition from within the police sources as well as outside the police sources. Therefore, this shows that although the police department still has some areas that it should improve as far as worker’s motivation is concerned; the measures that are already in place are effectively used to motivate the workforce.


Griffin, R., W. & Moorhead, G. (2009). Organizational Behavior: Managing People and Organizations. Upper Saddle River: Cengage Learning.

Hoffmann, S. (2007). Classical Motivation Theories – Similarities and Differences Between Them. New York: GRIN Verlag.

Jain K. N (2006). Organisational Behavior. New York: FK Publications.

Koontz, H. & Weihrich H. (2006). Essentials Of Management. New York: McGraw-Hill Education.

Los Angeles Police Department1, (2011). Collision Investigator Of The Year Police Officer II Joseph Cha. Web.

Los Angeles Police Department2, (2011). Traffic Enforcement Officer of the Year Officer Fernando Lopez. Web.

Robbins, S. P., & Judge, T. A. (2009). Organizational behavior (13th Ed.) Upper Saddle River, NJ. Pearson/Prentice Hall.

Arnolds, C., A. & Boshoff, C. (2002). Compensation, esteem valence and job performance: an empirical assessment of Alderfer’s ERG theory. The International Journal of Human Resource Management. 13(4). pp. 697-719

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