Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

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Hierarchy of needs Maslow - ToolsHero

This article explains the theory of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in a practical way. After reading you will understand the basics of this powerful motivation theory.

What is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs?

What motivates people, what is their motive to do their work well and how can they be encouraged to perform even better?

To get a better understanding of this process, the psychologist Abraham Maslow developed a Hierarchy of Needs model in 1934, in which he described five different levels of gratification of needs.

The hierarchy of needs is known as Maslow Pyramid or theory of human behavior and is still used in the corporate sector.

Levels of the Hierarchy of Needs

According to Abraham Maslow people are always motivated to satisfy their needs both at home and at work.

He does not make distinctions based on age. He categorized human needs into five hierarchical levels (Hierarchy of Needs).

He made the assumption that an advanced level can only be reached when the previous level of needs has been fulfilled.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, a powerful motivation theory | ToolsHero

According to Abraham Maslow it is not possible to skip a level of the Hierarchy of Needs.

That is why it is important to fulfil the need that has been skipped or lost at a later date. The lowest level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is the foundation of the pyramid. This is where the needs pattern begins.

These basic needs apply to everyone. The higher the level, the more difficult it becomes to satisfy the needs.

1. Physiological Needs

These include the most basic needs that are vital to survival, such as the need for food, water and sleep (Primary Needs).

Without fulfilment of these primary needs, people cannot function properly and they can fall ill. Transition to work: A salary pays for most of these basic needs (food and drink).

2. Safety Needs

Every person wants security, safety and stability (Secondary Needs). This can also be translated into peace, order and health.

This needs category also includes the security of a roof over one’s head. If you make the transition to work: steady work, for instance a long-term contract, provides stability and security for the long term.

This ensures security with respect to housing and providing for the family.

3. Belonging

People are social beings and need social contacts. They wish to belong to a group. Friendship, acceptance, caring for other people and intimacy are important needs.

Transition to work: an employee will only invest time in social contacts on the work floor and be loyal to colleagues when they have been given the security of a long-term contract.

The employee now feels that they are more a part of the group.

4. Esteem

After investing in social contacts, people need esteem and recognition for what they do (Recognition Needs). Self-respect is crucial in this.

Only when these needs are met, they will need esteem, recognition and respect from other people. Transition to the work place: The employer holds a motivator with this needs category.

Apart from the height of the salary, there are other factors that can motivate an employee.

As a result, compliments, trust and autonomy become important motivators for an employee.

5. Self-actualisation

Because of a full development of certain qualities, this needs category will grow (Development Needs). This can take place in different manners; from taking a course or night classes to taking on hobbies.

Transition to the workplace: Here too, motivators can be found. Some employees are extra stimulated if they are allowed to do certain courses or studies.

The incentive and appreciation for doing voluntary work, by offering a subsidy or leisure time, are part of this category.

Even when all the needs in the pyramid have been met, people will not be satisfied.

According to Abraham Maslow people will always have the urge to develop themselves and to chase after new needs, to be better at what they are good at.

A top sportsman wants to perform even better, an artist wants to pour more soul into his work and a manager wants to have an even bigger company. This need is also called self-actualization.

Critical comments

Today, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is heavily criticized by scientists.

There are situations in which it is not possible to substantiate the idea that these needs take place in a hierarchical order.

There are people who, despite very difficult circumstances, are perfectly capable of satisfying their social needs and who are capable of striving for recognition.

Furthermore, the various needs can merge with one another and they can vary from situation to situation.

In a workplace it is especially the younger employees who have a need for social contact, where as their older colleagues want to be recognized for their achievements.

As a third critical comment it could be said that Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is rather static.

The needs of employees change and depend on time, the situation, experience and by comparing themselves with others.

Finally, Clayton Alderfer states in his ERG theory that people can regress to lower level needs despite the fact that these needs have already been fulfilled.

It’s Your Turn

What do you think? Is the theory of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs still applicable in today’s modern world? Do you recognize the practical explanation or do you have more suggestions? What are your success factors for motivation?

Share your experience and knowledge in the comments box below.

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More information

  1. Gibson, F.K. & Teasley, C.E. (1973). The Humanistic Model of Organizational Motivation: A Review of Research Support. Public Administration Review 33, no. 1 (February 1973): 89-96.
  2. Maslow, A. H. (2013). A theory of human motivation. Start Publishing LLC.
  3. Maslow, A. H., Frager, R., & Fadiman, J. (1970). Motivation and personality (Vol. 2). Harper and Row.
  4. Wahba, M. & Bridwell, L. (1976). Maslow reconsidered: A review of research on the need hierarchy theory. Organizational Behaviour and Human Performance 15, no. 2: 212-240.

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