Maslow’s Need Hierarchy Theory

Abraham Harold Maslow

(April 1, 1908 – June 8, 1970)

In the year 1943 a Psychologist Maslow suggested his theory of Human Motivation. His theory is one popular and extensively cited theory of human motivation. Maslow's theory is based on Hierarchy of Human Needs. ]

According to Maslow, human behavior is related to his needs. It is adjusted as per the nature of needs to be satisfied. In hierarchy of needs theory of motivation, Maslow identified five types / sets of human need arranged in a hierarchy of their importance and priority. He concluded that when one set of needs is satisfied, it ceases to be a motivating factor. Thereafter, the next set of needs in the hierarchy order takes its place.

These needs in hierarchy can be compared to a pyramid. At the lowest level, there will be first set of needs which can be described as basic needs or Physiological needs and are universal in character. This will be followed by other sets of needs.

Abraham Maslow organized five major types of human needs into a hierarchy, as shown in Figure. The need hierarchy illustrates Maslow’s conception of people satisfying their needs in a specified order, from bottom to top.

The needs, in ascending order, are:

  1. Physiological needs

  2. Safety needs

  3. Love belonging

  4. Self-Esteem

  5. Self-actualization

Physiological Needs :

The Physiological needs are the basic needs for sustaining the human life. These needs include food, clothing, shelter, rest, water, air, sleep and sexual satisfaction. These basic human needs (also called as biological needs) lie at the lowest level in the hierarchy of needs as they have priority over all other needs. These needs cannot be postponed for long time. Unless and until these basic physiological needs are satisfied to the required extent, other needs do not motivate an person/employee. A hungry person, for example, is just not in a position to think of anything else except his hunger or food. According to Maslow, 'man lives by bread alone,' when there is no bread. The management attempts to meet such physiological needs through payment of fair wages.

Facts [+]

One-third of food produced globally every year does not reach human mouths, it is either lost in transit or wasted by consumers themselves. This amounts to a staggering 1.3 billion tonnes every year. These chilling figures are contained in a report called 'Avoiding Future Famines' released by the United Nations Environment Programme held at Rio+20 summit on sustainable development.

'Americans throw away 25% of food'

Security / Safety Needs :

These are the needs connected with psychological fear of loss of job, property, natural calamities or hazards, etc. An employee wants and needs protection from such types of fear. He prefers adequate safety and security in this regard i.e. protection from physical danger, security of job, pension at old age, insurance coverage for life, etc. The safety needs come after meeting the physiological needs. Such physiological needs lose their motivational potential when they are satisfied. As a result, safety needs replaces them. They begin to manifest themselves and dominate the human behavior. Safety needs act as motivational forces only if they are unsatisfied.

Facts [+]

A job satisfaction study compiled by asked satisfied workers to describe their jobs. The study found that highly satisfied employees consistently listed four factors: intellectual stimulation, job security, high levels of control and autonomy, and direct contact with clients and customers.

Demographers have labeled the generation born from 1982 to 2000 as "Millennials". Millennials were raised in a climate of high self-esteem, rapid changes in technology, and more focus on lifestyle. They are taking longer to finish school, launch careers, get married and form families. In the workplace, millennials may challenge traditional corporate boundaries more than previous generations.

Social Needs/Love belonging :

An employee is a human being is rightly treated as social animal. He desires or likes to stay in group. Human being feels that he should belong to one or the other group and the member of the group should accept him with the love and affection. Every human being desires to be affiliated to such groups. This is treated as basic social need of an individual. He also feels that he should be loved by the other persons. He needs friends and interaction with his friends and superiors of the group such as fellow employees or his superiors. Social needs occupy third position in the hierarchy of needs.

Esteem Needs :

This category of needs include the need to be respected by others, need to be appreciated by others, need to have the power and finally prestigious position. Once the previous needs are satisfied, a human being feels to be held in esteem both by himself and also by others. Thus, esteem needs are two fold in nature. Self esteem needs include those for self confidence, self-respect, competence, etc. The second groups of esteem needs are those related to one's status, reputation, recognition and appreciation by others. This is a type of personal ego which needs to be satisfied. The Organisation can satisfy this need (ego) by giving recognition to the good work of employees in organisation. Esteem needs do not assume the motivational properties unless the previous needs are satisfied.

"Recognition is like a small drop of oil in the machinery of business. It just makes things run a little smoother." -– Obert Tanner

Giving recognition makes employees confident in work: Report Even as receiving recognition is the usual norm, many organisations are now opening channels for employees to give regular recognition to their co-workers and 90 per cent respondents said by doing so they feel more confident in their work, a report has said." Those who give recognition at work are more confident in their work. About 90 per cent of employees who noted that they always give recognition to employees feel that their work in the past 12 months has represented significant innovations," according to a OC Tanner report.

The report also revealed that 94 per cent of employees noted that they always give recognition to co-workers are proud to tell others they work for their organisation. OC Tanner conducted the study among 3,496 employees, who were over 18 years working full-time at companies with more than 500 workforce, in multiple countries across four continents, including the US, the UK, Canada, Australia, India, Singapore and Germany." Creating opportunities for giving, receiving and observing recognition, and devising a programme that focuses on all three, will help organisations increase employee engagement, wellbeing, innovation, work results and revenue," the report said. It said by giving recognition more often, employees not only feel more secure in their present circumstances, but are also more optimistic about their future.

  • The report said that about 89 per cent agree that giving recognition creates a better company culture, while 79 said the giver works harder after they recognise another's achievement.

  • 75 per cent respondents felt that giving recognition makes them want to stay at their current organisation longer.

  • The report said 86 per cent agreed that giving recognition helped them better connect with their colleagues and 81 per cent felt it made them better connect to their organisations.

  • Overall, the report has revealed that employees in the US and the UK give recognition at a higher rate than other countries.

  • Australian, Canadian, and German employees fall in the middle range and while employees in the Asian countries of India and Singapore give recognition the least, it added.

Facts [+]

A recent poll of over 1,000 full-time employees by Maritz Research found over half believed the quality of their company's recognition efforts impacted their job performance. Respondents who were "completely satisfied" with their employer's recognition programs were more satisfied with their jobs, more likely to remain with the company, and more likely to recommend their workplace to others.

Self-actualization Needs :

This is the highest among the needs in the hierarchy of needs advocated by Abraham Maslow. Self actualisation is the desire to become what one is capable of becoming. It is the 'growth' need. A worker must work efficiently if he is to be ultimately happy. Here, a person feels that he should accomplish something in his life. Human want to utilize his potentials to the maximum extent and desires to become what one is capable of becoming. A person desires to have challenges and achieves something special in his life or in the area of his specialization. Though every one is capable of self-actualization, many do not reach this stage. This need is fully satisfied rarely.

How does the Hierarchy Work?

    • A person starts at the bottom of the hierarchy (pyramid) and will initially seek to satisfy basic needs (e.g. food, clothing and shelter)

    • Once these physiological needs have been satisfied, they are no longer a motivator. the individual moves up to the next level

    • Safety needs at work could include physical safety (e.g. protective clothing) as well as protection against unemployment, loss of income through sickness etc.)

    • Social needs recognize that most people want to belong to a group. These would include the need for love and belonging (e.g. working with colleague who support you at work, teamwork, communication)

    • Esteem needs are about being given recognition for a job well done. They reflect the fact that many people seek the esteem and respect of others. A promotion at work might achieve this.

    • Self-actualization is about how people think about themselves - this is often measured by the extent of success and/or challenge at work

Maslow's model has great potential appeal in the business world. The message is clear - if management can find out which level each employee has reached, then they can decide on suitable rewards.

Implications for Management

  • If Maslow's theory holds, there are some important implications for management. There are opportunities to motivate employees through management style, job design, company policies, and compensation packages, some examples of which follow:

  • Physiological needs: Provide lunch breaks, rest breaks, and wages that are sufficient to purchase the essential goods for human life.

  • Safety Needs: Provide a safe working environment, retirement benefits, and the job security.

  • Social Needs: Create a sense of community via team-based projects and social events.

  • Esteem Needs: Recognize achievements to make employees feel appreciated and valued. Offer job titles that convey the importance of the position.

  • Self-Actualization: Provide employees a challenge and the opportunity to reach their full career potential and achieve top positions in their life.

However, not all people are driven by the same needs - at any time different people may be motivated by entirely different factors. It is important to understand the needs being pursued by each employee. To motivate an employee, the manager must be able to recognize the needs level at which the employee is operating, and use those needs as levers of motivation.

Indians prefer long-term job security over salary: Survey

April, 2012: With the market uncertainty, Indian employees are preferring financially healthy companies and long-term job security, a survey says. Long-term job security and financial health of the company are the most-often selected factors by 64 per cent employees, followed by career progression opportunities (50 per cent), says a recent Randstad India report.

Salary and employee benefits, which topped the chart in 2011, has dropped to the third position, it adds. Long-term job security seems to be the top preference in the telecom sector, but not in the automotive sector.