Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

Building a Happier, More Satisfied Team

Building Blocks

Maslow said that you should meet people's needs at each level of the pyramid, in turn.

© iStockphoto/JillKyle

As a manager, you know that your people are happier and more productive when their needs are being met. But, how do you know what these are?

You can use Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs to answer this question, at least in part. Maslow's Hierarchy is one of the most widely known psychological models, and it helps to explain what human beings need to be happy and healthy.

In this article, we'll look at it, and we'll discuss how you can apply it to your team.

About the Model

Psychologist Abraham Maslow published his Hierarchy of Needs (see figure 1) in his 1943 article, "A Theory of Human Motivation."

Figure 1 – Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

From "A Theory of Human Motivation" by A.H. Maslow. Published by the American Psychological Association, 1943. Reproduced with permission.

Maslow believed that we all have five kinds of need. He presented them as a hierarchy, because, he argued, we need to meet one level of need before we can try to meet the next.

The five levels are as follows:

Level 1: Physiology/body needs.
Level 2: Safety/security needs.
Level 3: Love/belonging needs.
Level 4: Self-esteem needs.
Level 5: Self-actualization needs.

The hierarchy is important for managers because, by meeting people's needs, you can help them be happier, more committed, and more productive at work.

Meeting people's needs goes beyond providing management support, learning and development opportunities, and other work-related benefits. As the model shows, people have more fundamental needs, and it's these that Maslow explored in his work.


Some scholars have criticized Maslow's hierarchy.

For example, Dutch psychologist Geert Hofstede   highlighted that the model was based on U.S. research subjects only. This means that it may not be completely applicable to non-U.S. cultures, because these could have different values and norms.

Keep this in mind if you work with a culturally diverse team  , or if you manage in another country. Here, you might need to address needs in another order, or you might have to address entirely different needs.

Others   argue that different need structures are appropriate, and still others say that there is no requirement to address needs in the order Maslow recommended – some or all can be addressed at the same time.

Using the Theory

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs is a useful idea to have in mind as you think about how to meet a team member's needs (for example, during a quarterly review).

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