Abraham Maslow was a social psychologist who focused on the entirety of human psychological needs rather than on individual psychological problems. Maslow is best known for his theory, the Hierarchy of Needs. Depicted in a pyramid, the theory explains the different levels of importance of human psychological and physical needs.
The general needs in Maslow's hierarchy include physiological needs (food and clothing), safety needs (job security), social needs (friendship), self-esteem, and self-actualization. Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs can be used by managers to better understand employees' needs and motivations, allowing them to best provide for employees' needs and generate high productivity and job satisfaction.
The Hierarchy of Needs: Levels of the Pyramid
At the bottom of the pyramid are the physiological (or basic) needs of a human being: food, water, sleep, and sex. The next level is safety needs: security, order, and stability. These two levels are important to the physical survival of the person. Once individuals have basic nutrition, shelter, and safety, they attempt to accomplish more.
The third level of need is love and belonging, which are psychological needs; when individuals have taken care of themselves physically, they are ready to share themselves with others, such as with family and friends. The fourth level is achieved when individuals feel comfortable with what they have accomplished. This is the esteem level, which includes the need to feel competent and recognized, such as through status and level of success. Then there is the cognitive level, where individuals intellectually stimulate themselves and explore. After that is the aesthetic level, which includes the need for harmony, order, and beauty.
At the top of the pyramid, self-actualization occurs when individuals reach a state of harmony and understanding because they have achieved their full potential. Once people have reached the self-actualization stage they focus on themselves and try to build their own image. They may look at this in terms of feelings such as self-confidence, or by accomplishing a set goal.
Hierarchy of Needs and Organizational Theory
Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs relates to organizational theory and behavior because it explores a worker's motivation. For example, some people are prepared to work just for money, but others like going to work because of the friends they have made there or the fact that they are respected by others and recognized for their good work. One conclusion that can be made from Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs in the workforce is, "If a lower need is not met, then the higher ones are ignored." For example, if employees are worried that they will be fired, and have no job security, they will be far more concerned about capital accumulation and ensuring their lower rungs can continue to be met (paying rent, paying bills, etc.) than about friendship and respect at work. However, if employees are wealthy enough to fulfill their basic needs, praise for good work and meaningful group relationships may be a more important motivation.
If a need is not met, staff may become very frustrated. For example, if someone works hard for a promotion and does not achieve the recognition they want, they may become demotivated and put in less effort. When a need is met it will no longer motivate the person, but the next need in the hierarchy will become important to that person. Keep in mind that it is not quite as simple in reality as in a model, and that individuals may have needs that are more complex or difficult to quantify than the hierarchy suggests. Managers must be perceptive and empathetic to their employees, they must listen to what their needs are and work to fulfill them.