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The Modern Maslow Hierarchy of Needs

Last month I published an article on Theory X and Y managers and reflected on the fact that this theory was once the foundation for management training, and today it is rarely mentioned.  This month I want to focus on another “lost” management theory, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, the popular theory that discusses what motivates people with a focus on motivating in the workforce.

Abraham Maslow, a practising psychologist, developed one of the most widely recognised theory of motivation based upon a consideration of human needs. His theory of human needs had three assumptions:

  • Human needs are never completely satisfied.
  • Human behaviour is purposeful and is motivated by the need for satisfaction.
  • And a hierarchical structure can classify these needs in order of importance, from the lowest to highest.

At the bottom, the most basic needs are physical, such as having food and water.  The second is safety, third is love and belonging, fourth is esteem and finally self-actualisation, or the need to realise your full potential.

Many leaders still refer to this management theory and there have been several studies done that called for the modernisation of the model to fit more with the desires of a modern employee.  For example, on the first level of needs things like food, water and shelter are still there, but some advocate that the internet, mobile phones or even paying a living wage should also be components of this level.   

There is also a position that states that human needs are not hierarchical they are a connected network, and you don’t need to satisfy the needs at one level before you can move to the next. Forbes published an article that summarised writings of Pamela Rutledge in Psychology Today entitled “Social Networks: What Maslow Misses” (November 2011) points out that Maslow’s model misses the role of social connection. In reviews of research based on Maslow’s theory, little evidence has been found for the ranking of needs that Maslow described or even for the existence of a definite hierarchy at all. Rutledge argues that the problem with Maslow’s hierarchy is that none of these needs — starting with basic survival on up — are possible without social connection and collaboration, a network instead of a hierarchy.

As you move up the hierarchy, the modernisation of the needs continues.  And with the advent of social media and always being connected the levels of belonging and self-esteem have taken on new definitions, and this would be especially true with millennials.  A recent World Economic Forum article stated that the average American checks their phone every 6.5 minutes or a staggering 150 times per day.  If that is not loving and belonging, I am not sure I know what is. 

And the feeling of self-actualisation has also changed.  Employees today want to be empowered, work in less structured environments and have different work characteristics and attributes to feel like they have reached their full potential.  As managers and leaders of businesses we need to reflect on the original hierarchy of needs but incorporate into how we motivate and engage our staff through modern needs and wants in the areas of safety, belonging, esteem and self-actualisation.

As HR professionals when we are reviewing areas such as pay, rewards, benefits, promotions, team building, engagement, office environment and even the creation of new policies’ and procedures we need to reflect on what does motivate and engage our staff.  Once you have met their basic needs, what is important to your employees and how do you reflect that in your company’s people strategy?

Maslow’s hierarchy still exists, but how we apply it to today’s employees and work environment is very different from when it first entered the scene of management theories.   

Mary Sue Rogers


Posted On : 21-10-16

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