Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
Building a Happier, More Satisfied Team
Good leaders recognize that if they're to build productive and highly successful teams, they need to understand and look after the needs and well-being of team members.
This is a fundamental part of the "emotional contract" between leaders and their teams: when team members know they're being looked after by their leader, they'll usually give their best in return.
Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs is a popular way of thinking about people's needs. Published by psychologist Abraham Maslow in his 1943 article, "A Theory of Human Motivation," this theory contends that as humans strive to meet our most basic needs, we also seek to satisfy a higher set of needs.
Maslow presents this set of needs as a hierarchy, consisting of:
- Physiological/bodily needs.
- Safety needs.
- Love/belonging needs.
- Self-actualization (the desire to be "all that you can be").
The theory argues that the most fundamental level starts with the physiological need for food, water and shelter. This is followed by security and social needs. Maslow believed that the higher-level needs, such as self-esteem and self-fulfillment, can only be met after the lower level needs have been satisfied.
Understanding Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs
Maslow's hierarchic theory (see figure 1) is often represented as a pyramid, with the lower levels representing the more fundamental needs, and the upper levels representing the growth/being needs, and ultimately the need for self-actualization.
According to the theory, the higher needs in the hierarchy become evident only after all the needs that are lower down in the pyramid are met.
Figure 1 – Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs
These levels are:
Level 1: Physiology, Body
Physiological needs are biological needs and include the needs for oxygen, food, water, shelter, etc. They are the basis for the hierarchy and are the strongest needs because if a person were deprived of all needs, the physiological ones come first in the person's search for satisfaction.
Level 2: Security
According to Maslow, the need for security becomes evident only after a person's physiological needs are met. While most adults are not acutely aware of security needs until a crisis arises, it is important to understand this need and for managers to provide a safe workplace.
Level 3: Belonging, Social
Once the needs for safety are met, the need for a sense of belonging, one in which a give-and-take relationship is nurtured, becomes evident. Maslow states that people seek to overcome feelings of loneliness and alienation, and managers must understand this to ensure employee engagement, productivity and motivation.
Level 4: Self-Esteem
Once the first three classes of needs are met, the need for self-esteem can become dominant. Because this includes the esteem a person gets from others, managers who understand this can use this tool to help ensure employees and team members feel valued and respected, driving up self-esteem.
This will positively impact the employee and the employee's motivation levels, productivity, ability to work on a team and alone, etc. On the other hand, if these needs are not met, an employee may become frustrated, feel inferior and worthless and he or she may withdraw.
Level 5: Self-Actualization
The need for self-actualization develops only after all of the foregoing needs are satisfied. According to Maslow, self-actualization is a person's need to do what they feel they are meant to do. As a manager, it is important to help employees or team members find this, otherwise the employee will become dissatisfied, restless, and unproductive, and may even look for satisfaction elsewhere.
Using the Theory
Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs is not so much a technique or process to use as an idea to have in mind when you're thinking about how you meet a team member's needs (for example, during a quarterly review).
Managers often instinctively want to use salary raises as a way of motivating team members. However, the reality is usually that they have a fixed "pot" of raises to offer to their team members, and this often does not allow the rewards they want to give.
Maslow's theory is important for two reasons. First, it points out that people's needs are not just met by hard cash (which arguably addresses levels 1 and 2). People have many needs that have to be met, and while people may be well paid, they can still be unsatisfied if these needs aren't met. (See our article, Herzberg's Motivators and Hygiene Factors, for more on this.)
Second, it gives managers a whole range of tools that they can use to build team satisfaction, even if they don't have much money to give out. It usually doesn't cost much to provide a safe working environment. It's often inexpensive to have team socials (for example, around a barbecue) where team members can get to know one another outside the work environment. And it costs nothing to compliment people on a job well done.
As such, Maslow's Hierarchy gives hard-pressed managers "permission" to be "good bosses," knowing that as such, they're doing their best to build highly effective, highly productive teams.
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