Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in Today’s Workplace

We All Want and Need Motivated and Driven Team Members to Get Things Done

Without them, we will struggle to achieve any of our business results. Staff who are motivated perform better in terms of productivity and quality of work. They collaborate and communicate more effectively. Also, the work environment is nicer and there is better attendance and timekeeping. Any of us would want these elements in our workplace. But how can we make that happen? What about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs as an approach to use? 

 

As our team members are all different, they will have different motivators. We need to understand where our different team members are in terms of what motivates them. Otherwise, we will be trying in vain to motivate by using the wrong triggers. This is where Maslow’s hierarchy of needs comes into play. We will explain what Maslow’s theory is and look at the 5 different levels. We will also look at the relevance of this theory nowadays as well as the importance in our company.    

What is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs? 

Back in 1943, Abraham Maslow introduced us to his paper in psychology: “A Theory of Human Motivation”. Here, he explained how human motivation is driven by different needs. These needs were set in a 5-tier hierarchy. A key element to the theory is that you cannot move to higher levels until lower levels are properly satisfied. So, as each level is satisfied, we move up the hierarchy now with new needs to be met.  

Maslow’s theory has been introduced around the world in management training and education. This theory has been studied as part of management curriculums. I studied it myself in college. You very often see it depicted as a layered triangle or pyramid. Some might argue that the theory is dated or even flawed. However, we argue that it has great value in understanding human motivation.

When you apply it to your team, you will see how different staff are at different levels at different times. With this knowledge, you can then identify the right motivators to stimulate them. This in turn will help in achieving better company success.      

MBM graphic of Maslow's hierarchy

The 5 Levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy 

The 5 levels are physiological needs, safety and security, belonging and love, esteem, and finally self-actualisation. We will look at each to better understand the different levels. While we go through them, try to find your current level.  

Physiological Needs 

Here we have the most basic human needs. They include sleep, food, water, shelter, and even air. These are the very basic needs for our very survival.  

We must satisfy these needs before we can move on to others. If these needs are not met, we are demotivated and frustrated. We can’t focus on other levels when these basic needs are not met. Think about the last time you were really hungry. Did you really care about anything else? You were probably distracted and you weren’t able to think about anything else. Once these basic needs are met, we are motivated to do other things.   

Cartoon head with a raincloud inside

Safety and Security 

We are motivated towards safety and security only when the physiological needs are met. However, these safety and security needs are just as important to us. These needs include health, financial, job, and physical security. For example, we want to know that our workplace is safe and we won’t get harmed or injured. We also want to be confident of receiving our salary at the end of the week or month.  

These safety and security needs cannot be met if people have not had their basic needs met. People want to know that they can have stability in their lives when these safety and security needs are met. Your staff are motivated to come to work every day so that they are able to pay their bills and meet their needs by being there. Only then can we all start focusing on more lasting connections to our workplace rather than just a paycheque.       

Belonging and Love 

We all want and need different relationships in our lives. We need our family and friends. These connections are important for us to feel wanted. They strengthen us. In terms of the workplace, we want to feel we belong to the team. We also want to have relationships that create an enjoyable atmosphere at work. We can often feel alienated or depressed when these needs are missing.    

Esteem 

There are 2 types of esteem that are recognised at this level. The first is the esteem from others. We want our colleagues and seniors to appreciate and value us. Also, we want the same from our family and friends. Everyone is highly motivated by the idea of others recognising our contribution.  

The second is self-esteem. This is the ability to be able to appreciate our worth, even if others don’t. There are times when those around us won’t see what we have to offer. This is where self-esteem will come into play. You know the saying “you can’t please everyone”, well that applies here. And sometimes we can be motivated without the esteem of others.  

What is important for this level is that we need at least one of them to be present. When neither are present, we have feelings of being useless or inadequate. We question our purpose and relevance.    

Self-Actualisation 

This level will have different meanings to each of us. For example, Mary will reach this level when she writes her first novel and sees it on the best-sellers list. Whereas, John will be at this level when he retires, has his pension, and can forget about work. 

achieve spelt out in Scrabble tiles on a blue background

This is about knowing what is most important to you, achieving it, and the satisfaction you feel from it. Very often, we achieve this level in our lives and then move quickly again to a lower level. Imagine your top level is fulfilled by becoming a parent. Once you have achieved that, you will jump back down to the bottom levels of being motivated by basic needs for the survival of your new child.  

So, we know the levels now, but how do they relate it to the workplace? Something important to remember about all of these levels is that we can revisit levels at different times. Let’s have a look. 

Relevance in The Workplace of Maslow’s Hierarchy 

Take the very first level of needs. People are at this level when they are searching for a new job. For example, John has applied for the job vacancy in your company to satisfy these basic needs. John, as a possible new hire, will be motivated to impress during the interview to secure the job. 

Joh has been hired and is starting with the company. Now he has moved onto the second level of safety and security. He is eager to please to complete his probation. That way his job will be secure and he can start enjoying the workplace and team environment more. Once he has started to settle in, he will start developing workplace relationships, therefore moving on to level 3.  

Next, John has gained a lot of knowledge and experience on the job. He is performing really well. So, he wins employee of the month and is being considered for development courses. Then, he has moved from level 3 to level 4. His self-confidence increases and he becomes the top performer in the team.  

Finally, John receives his promotion to manager and he’s delighted. This is what he wanted when he first joined the company. But, wait for it. John won’t stay at this level of self-actualisation in the new role. He will move to the 2nd or 3rd level. Why you might ask. Now, he needs to create job security in the new role. Also, he needs to build new relationships as the leader rather a colleague. Then he will need to prove himself. And so, it continues. While all this is going on for John, other members of your team are moving between the levels at different times.     

Motivators and Maslow’s Hierarchy 

We have seen a very basic example above of the relevance of Maslow’s hierarchy in our workplace. Let’s link each level to possible motivators we can provide. 

At that first level of the basic needs. We as employers need to offer motivators that meet those needs of shelter, food, water, etc. So, we need to offer fair and competitive salaries when hiring. Also, we might include additional benefits such as meals at work or discounts. Some companies even offer accommodation or allowances for transport. These are all examples of possible motivators at this level. 

Motivated Runner on Start looking determines

Next, at level 2, we look at meeting the needs of job security, physical security, etc. We can use training programmes to prepare new employees to complete their probation successfully. Also, we need to offer a healthy and safe workplace. In addition, we need to pay our staff fully and on time. 

For the third level of belonging, we can offer interpersonal experiences. These can be anything from team training sessions to departmental meetings, to team building activities. Remember, everyone wants to feel like a part of the team. Be sure to have opportunities where the team can come together and connect. Also, we should have platforms for them to share their ideas and opinions.  

Now we have the 4th level of esteem. Here we can offer opportunities to reward, recognise and praise our team. We need to value effort and contribution. These can be one-to-one feedback or group events. As long as they happen, they will work. 

For the 5th and final level, we need to think long-term. This is where succession planning and ongoing development come into play. We also need to have the opportunity for staff to grow within the company and always hire from outside for more senior levels.     

Examples of This in Use Today 

So, let’s apply the theory to our current work climate. We have given slightly different titles to the 5 levels in order to make them more relatable.  

Job Hunters  

We see so many people struggling with the first level due to the pandemic. All of those job-hunting are motivated to get a new job to meet those basic needs. We all need to pay our bills, feed ourselves and our families, and have a roof over our heads. This is an ongoing challenge with so many jobs being made redundant and businesses closing. Also, this is because of the Great Resignation happening as a result of the changes we have gone through.  

Recruiters are seeing a big increase in applications for all vacant positions. We also see candidates applying for jobs that they are over-qualified for. This is because of the need to satisfy this level. As leaders, we need to be able to prioritise meeting these needs to enable people to move on to the next level. We should be realistic in terms of our hiring criteria. Also, we should be transparent in terms of the availability of positions. Maybe we can look at rehiring former staff.  

Uncertainty about Job Safety and Security  

We saw that Maslow’s hierarchy had everything to do with job security, stability, and safety at the second level. So, we have to face the reality of the second level being very apparent in the workplace. In terms of physical safety, your team members want to know that returning to the workplace is safe. They want to be reassured that their health and wellbeing are key considerations for the company. We have an obligation to meet and exceed these needs for our team. No member of your team should feel scared of coming back to work due to health and safety concerns.  

They will also be worried at this level about job security. Questions they might have include “will there be another lockdown?”, “is there enough business for me to get enough working hours every week?” or “is the company able to survive after the pandemic?”. Even, is my job safe? All of these questions are very relatable for many of us. We need to be ready to answer these questions. We should also be able to show practical action that will reassure our team members. Only then will people at this level have their needs satisfied. 

Rebuilding Team Relationships 

Concept of teamwork of business women high fiving

So many of us have had to adapt to working from home over the last 20+ months. Now, we are returning to the workplace and the team dynamic may have changed. We need to work hard with our teams to redevelop these relationships. These work relationships are important for creating collaboration and achieving results.       

Create chances for the team to come together. We can introduce team meetings if they don’t already happen. Also, we can have team projects to get people used to working together again. Find innovative ways of meeting the needs for belonging. One key tip is to make yourself available to your team as much as possible. You can be the voice of reason, the shoulder to cry on, or the cause of laughter, depending on what is needed for your team.    

Recognition and Praise 

Our team members will be motivated to contribute more to keep the business afloat when they are recognised for their efforts. This will be especially important for those who have stuck with the company through the tough times. We have a great opportunity of meeting these needs at this point. 

Remember, we don’t have to resort to monetary rewards to recognise people. That could harm some companies at this time of revival or survival. Some will be satisfied with the chance to try new things, therefore recognising their capabilities. Others will be pleased with public recognition for their contribution. We need to be looking for ways to make this happen that has a meaningful impact.     

Moving Forward 

Finally, we need to be in a position where self-actualisation can occur. This doesn’t have to be now. Many of us are happy with knowing that something more is planned for us, in terms of development and career opportunities. Here we can start looking at how people can be developed for future growth within the company. We can create long-term goals and objectives for people to work towards. This will help many reach the 5th and highest level of the hierarchy.  

As we can see, there are many ways that Maslow’s hierarchy of needs relates directly to the current climate. We need to be aware of what level different members of our team are at. Only then will we be able to ensure we have the right motivators in place to meet the needs of everyone.  

Conclusion 

Although the theory may be celebrating its 80th anniversary soon, it does still have relevance in our workplace today. We as leaders need to be able to understand what needs our teams have. Then we need to be able to come up with creative and practical ways to meet those needs.   

Pyramid illustrating the Hierarchy of Needs

Maslow’s hierarchy gives us a clear idea of the 5 basic areas of motivation. By knowing them, you will have a better chance of creating situations where your team members feel motivated.  

And motivation in the workplace is a win-win for everyone involved. We have happier staff who stay longer, a nicer work environment, and better results for the company. So why not give Maslow’s hierarchy a try.   

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