Maslow hierarchy of needs theory

Maslow's hierarchy of needs theory states that people have a pyramid hierarchy of needs that they will satisfy from bottom to top. Starting from mere physiological subsistence the Maslow hierarchy of needs covers belonging to a social circle to pursuing your talent through self-actualization. Important to the hierarchy of needs theory is that Maslow felt that unfulfilled needs lower on the ladder would inhibit the person from climbing to the next step.

The pyramid of needs is divided into two categories: deficiency needs (physiological and safety) and growth needs (belonging, self-esteem and self-actualisation). If the deficiency needs aren't satisfied, the person will feel the deficit and this will stifle his or her development.

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Maslow work situations

When Maslow's hierarchy of needs is applied to work situations, it implies that managers have the responsibility, firstly, to make sure the deficiency needs are met. This means, in broad terms, a safe environment and proper wages. Secondly, it implies creating a proper climate in which employees can develop their fullest potential. Failure to do so would theoretically increase employee frustration and could result in poorer performance, lower job satisfaction, and increased withdrawal from the organization.

For example, according to Maslow's hierarchy of needs theory job insecurity and the threat of layoffs, will block the person from their higher growth needs. They might work harder to get security, but without fulfilling their other needs. If security doesn't return they will fulfill their needs elsewhere or burn out.

How to satisfy employee's needs

The figure below shows some potential ways of satisfying employee needs according to Maslow's hierarchy of needs theory. Some of these are easy and inexpensive to implement, others are hard and costly. Also, the employees' needs may vary. However, if you manage to implement at least some of these strategies you will be looked at as more considerate, supportive and interested in your people's welfare.

Need    Examples
Physiological    Cafeterias
  • Vending machines
  • Drinking fountains
Security    Economic
  • Wages and salaries
  • Fringe benefits
  • Retirement benefits
  • Medical benefits
Psychological
  • Provide job descriptions
  • Avoid abrupt changes
  • Solve employee's problems
Physical
  • Working conditions
  • Heating and ventilation
  • Rest periods
Belonging    Encourage social interaction
  • Create team spirit
  • Facilitate outside social activities
  • Use periodic praise
  • Allow participation
Self-esteem    Design challenging jobs
  • Use praise and awards
  • Delegate responsibilities
  • Give training
  • Encourage participation
Self-actualization    Give training
  • Provide challenges
  • Encourage creativity

Implications for financial incentives in Maslow's hierarchy of needs model

In Maslow's hierarchy of needs model, wages are part of the deficiency needs. That means that they serve as a measure of security, and that people will feel unfulfilled in their need for safety until they have it.

Giving financial bonuses is a different matter. In Maslow's hierarchy of needs model, these can serve to fulfill the need for esteem. However, the way they are awarded is also important: if they aren't given in an atmosphere of praise but as a mere benefit for reaching a certain goal, they can work counterproductively as they will be seen as mere wages, and as such only serve to satisfy someone's deficiency needs, or not at all (if they don't really need the money).

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