Abraham Maslow is among the most prominent psychologists of the 20th century and the hierarchy of needs, accompanied by the pyramid representing how human needs are ranked, is an image familiar to most business students and managers. Maslow’s theory is based on a simple premise: Human beings have needs that are hierarchically ranked.1Maslow, A. H. (1943). A theory of human motivation. Psychological Review, 50, 370–396; Maslow, A. H. (1954) Motivation and personality. New York: Harper. There are some needs that are basic to all human beings, and in their absence, nothing else matters. As we satisfy these basic needs, we start looking to satisfy higher-order needs. Once a lower-level need is satisfied, it no longer serves as a motivator.
The most basic of Maslow’s needs are physiological needs. Physiological needs refer to the need for air, food, and water. Imagine being very hungry. At that point, all your behavior may be directed at finding food. Once you eat, though, the search for food ceases and the promise of food no longer serves as a motivator. Once physiological needs are satisfied, people tend to become concerned about safety. Are they safe from danger, pain, or an uncertain future? One level up, social needs refer to the need to bond with other human beings, to be loved, and to form lasting attachments. In fact, having no attachments can negatively affect health and well-being.2Baumeister, R. F., & Leary, M. R. (1995). The need to belong: Desire for interpersonal attachments as a fundamental human motivation. Psychological Bulletin, 117, 497–529. The satisfaction of social needs makes esteem needs more salient. Esteem needs refer to the desire to be respected by one’s peers, feeling important, and being appreciated. Finally, at the highest level of the hierarchy, the need for self-actualization refers to “becoming all you are capable of becoming.” This need manifests itself by acquiring new skills, taking on new challenges, and behaving in a way that will lead to the satisfaction of one’s life goals.
Maslow’s hierarchy is a systematic way of thinking about the different needs employees may have at any given point and explains different reactions they may have to similar treatment. An employee who is trying to satisfy her esteem needs may feel gratified when her supervisor praises her. However, another employee who is trying to satisfy his social needs may resent being praised by upper management in front of peers if the praise sets him apart from the rest of the group.
So, how can organizations satisfy their employees’ various needs? By leveraging the various facets of the planning-organizing-leading-controlling (P-O-L-C) functions. In the long run, physiological needs may be satisfied by the person’s paycheck, but it is important to remember that pay may satisfy other needs such as safety and esteem as well. Providing generous benefits, including health insurance and company-sponsored retirement plans, as well as offering a measure of job security, will help satisfy safety needs. Social needs may be satisfied by having a friendly environment, providing a workplace conducive to collaboration and communication with others. Company picnics and other social get-togethers may also be helpful if the majority of employees are motivated primarily by social needs (but may cause resentment if they are not and if they have to sacrifice a Sunday afternoon for a company picnic). Providing promotion opportunities at work, recognizing a person’s accomplishments verbally or through more formal reward systems, job titles that communicate to the employee that one has achieved high status within the organization are among the ways of satisfying esteem needs. Finally, self-actualization needs may be satisfied by providing development and growth opportunities on or off the job, as well as by assigning interesting and challenging work. By making the effort to satisfy the different needs each employee may have at a given time, organizations may ensure a more highly motivated workforce.
Management 2020 text remixed from multiple sources under a CC Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. View a complete list of original sources.