Behavioral psychologist, Dr. Abraham Harold Maslow is popular among economists and policy makers for his theory of “Hierarchy of Needs”.
According to the theory, every individual is motivated at both life and work by five basic needs.
A person aims to fulfill each of these basic needs, starting from the lowest levels to the highest, what we know as self actualization.
Once they are able to satisfy the lowest level of need, they work on to realize the next and this process continues until all five needs are met.
For managers, Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs theory plays a prominent role in talent acquisition and retention. The five needs described under the theory include:
Physiological needs: The very basic needs of living – a salary that covers food, water, shelter and clothing.
Security needs: A stable emotional and physical work environment and career securities including pension schemes, fair workplace practices and a safe working environment.
The need for “belonging”: The need of social acceptance including acceptance in the professional community.
Self-esteem needs: The need to have respect in the society/workplace along with a positive self-image, prestigious job assignments, nicer work desks, better job titles, etc.
The need for ‘self actualization’: Lastly, it comes to workplace autonomy, more challenging job roles and being recognized as subject matter experts.
How does Maslow's “Hierarchy of Needs” apply in the workplace?
Getting our needs met step by step is a great motivation for continued productivity and loyalty in the workplace.
The first step is about our physiological needs. A person looks for work to secure continued income to cover their own and their family’s needs for shelter, food, clothing and other basics.
This is what the employee at the lowest level looks for. An adequate salary, depending on the basic lifestyle of the community should help fulfill this need.
Once the above need is met, it’s about a sense of stability. Until the previous step, a person would be shifting between jobs, but with enough experience, they would be looking for a more stable position that secures their life. This is when they would need appreciation for their efforts.
In this learning phase, the best way to motivate employees is to encourage them to do better at their jobs. A supportive environment will help them feel more secure and increase their motivation towards work, and consequently, their productivity.
Further, the organization can take initiatives that extend care to the employee’s family. It’s a stage at which a person would be looking to own a home and have all necessary resources for living at their disposal.
The next step is the need to belong. Once a person has a safe and secure job with a supportive workplace, they would be looking for positive associations to keep them there.
Though the workplace isn’t a particularly social environment, it requires that employees work as a team and feel like they contribute to the organization.
Friendly managers have a better chance of creating a team of hard working individuals who stand by the goals of the organization. It only requires that managers be good to employees and accept each individual’s needs to be considered an important part of the organisation.
Networking sessions and activities involving group participation fulfill the need to belong and help employees realize this third level need.
Next comes the step when a professional’s focus begins to integrate a sense of personal ego or self-esteem. They may be looking for special treatment.
Managers can fulfill this need by recognizing employees for their efforts and achievements. This is why many organizations have the system of “employee of the month” where the name of the employee is displayed prominently in the premises.
Whenever a professional goes out of their way to contribute to the organization, they need to be recognized for it. This will help them feel motivated to continue to work hard and earn more recognition and respect.
At last, comes a time when all the lower needs are met and the person wants to see themselves reach an authoritative position. They need to feel a sense of achievement that comes after years of hard work and many contributions.
Promoting a hard working employee to a position where they would be running their own team gives them a sense of achievement. As a supervisor, you will need to identify these potential employees and offer them the highest level of special treatment.
At this stage, the employee would be looked up to for their creativity, resourcefulness, problem solving skills, lack of prejudice and knowledge gained from years of experience in the industry.
What Managers Need To Understand
What is important for one employee might not be important for another. This is also where the manager needs to reach out to each and every member of the team to understand their individual motivations and help them fulfill them as part of the organisation.
Managers also need to understand that what worked for one generation (eg. Baby Boomers) might not work for others (eg. Millenials). According to Gallup, millennials think of work in a very different manner than baby boomers.
“Millennials want to be free of old workplace policies and performance management standards, and they expect leaders and managers to adapt accordingly. They see work and life as closely intertwined. Because of this, millennials want to have a different relationship with their manager. They want their manager to care about them as an employee and a person.”
As this article in Forbes notes, “They’re looking strategically at opportunities to invest in a place where they can make a difference, preferably a place that itself makes a difference.”
The article goes on to note that leaders now have to learn to find ways to wrangle millennials into their organizations in a manner that they find “compelling and consistent with their distinct values.” And that’s not an easy ask.