Maslow's hierarchy of needs is a theory in psychology proposed by Abraham Maslow in his 1943 paper "A Theory of Human Motivation." Maslow subsequently extended the idea to include observations about people's innate curiosity and not just what motivates them. His theories parallel many other theories of psychology which focus on describing stages in human development. Maslow uses the terms Physiological, Safety, Love and Belonging, Esteem, and Self-Actualization to describe the general stages that human motivations move through.
Maslow studied what he called exemplary people, such as Albert Einstein, Jane Addams, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Frederick Douglass. Maslow's hierarchy of needs is often portrayed in the shape of a pyramid, with the largest and most fundamental levels of needs at the bottom. While Maslow never used a pyramid to represent the levels, a pyramid has become the de facto way to represent the hierarchy (Figure 1).
Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs
The most fundamental and basic four layers of the pyramid contain what Maslow called "deficiency needs," including esteem, friendship and love, security, and physical needs. With the exception of the most fundamental (physiological) needs, if these deficiency needs are not met, the body gives no physical indication, but the individual feels anxious and tense, including in their work environments. Maslow's theory suggests that the most basic level of needs must be met before an individual will strongly desire (or be motivated by) secondary or higher level needs. Maslow also coined the term "metamotivation" to describe the motivation of people who go beyond the scope of the basic needs and strive for constant betterment.
Physiological needs. For the most part, physiological needs are obvious – they are the literal requirements for human survival. If these requirements are not met, the human body simply cannot continue to function. Physiological needs are the most dominant of all the other needs. Therefore, the human that lacks food, love, esteem, or safety would consider the greatest of those needs to be food.
Safety needs. With one's physical needs relatively satisfied, the individual's safety needs take precedence and dominate behavior. In the absence of physical safety – war, natural disaster, or childhood abuse, for example – people re-experience those stressful situations. This is more likely to be found in children because they have a greater need to feel safe. However, safety can also affect workplace dynamics. For example, an unsafe work environment can put an employee at risk and also impair his or her motivation.
Love and belonging. After physiological and safety needs are fulfilled, the third layer of human needs are interpersonal and involve feelings of belongingness. The need is especially strong in childhood and can override the need for safety, as witnessed in children who cling to abusive parents. Deficiencies such as hospitalization, neglect, or ostracization can impact an individual's ability to form and maintain emotionally significant relationships.
Esteem. All humans have a need to be respected and to respect themselves. Esteem is the normal human desire to be accepted and valued by others. People need to engage themselves in activities, either professional or personal, to gain recognition and a sense of contribution. Imbalances at this level can result in low self-esteem or an inferiority complex. Esteem needs can intersect with motivation in the workplace.
Self-actualization. “What a man can be, he must be.” This forms the basis of the perceived need for self-actualization. This level of need pertains to what a person's full potential is, and then the need to realize that potential. Maslow describes this desire as the desire to become everything that one is capable of becoming. This is a broad definition of the need for self-actualization, but when applied to individuals the need is specific. For example, one individual may have the strong desire to become an ideal parent, another to become a professional athlete, and another an artist. Self-actualization can also be pursued through one's work; thus, the desire for self-actualization can intersect with motivation in the workplace.