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Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

Abraham H. Maslow (1908-70), was an American psychologist and leading exponent of humanistic psychology. He developed a theory of motivation describing the process by which an individual progresses from basic needs (such as food) to the highest needs of what he called self-actualisation -- the fulfilment of one's greatest human potential.

The hierarchic theory is often represented as a pyramid, with the larger, lower levels representing the lower needs, and the upper point representing the need for self-actualisation. Each level of the pyramid is dependent on the previous level. For example, a person does not feel the second need until the demands of the first have been satisfied.

Maslow's hierarchy pyramid

The Needs

Physiological - The basic needs for survival - shelter, food, warmth etc.

Safety and Security - Protection from injury or attack

Social and Love - Being a part of a group, acceptance from colleagues, family life

Self-esteem - recognition of contribution, self respect, achievement

Actualisation - To develop to our full potential, to make a worthwhile contribution

Knowing where a person is on this scale can help to determine an effective motivator. For example, a young cleaner at a busy London hotel may be interested only in getting enough money for housing, food and heating whereas a miner who already has a highly respectable pay packet may be motivated by the struggle for a safer working environment. It should be noted that very few people stay in one particular level of the hierarchy for an extended period but it is usual to move up and down the pyramid as circumstances change.

The UK Workforce

The Welfare State and general working conditions have improved to the extent that, for those in full time employment in the UK, the first and second level needs are generally satisfied. For this reason, the third level needs are becoming increasingly important and the focus of attention for a far larger proportion of the workforce. Pub talk is now less about basic pay levels and more about lifestyle aspirations "I can feed and clothe myself, I have a house in a safe neighbourhood, the office isn't bad - but I want a social life!" "I want to spend some time with my children while they are growing up"

Using Maslow

It is not necessary for the employer to provide for the employees' needs but it is necessary for them to understand the motivation of their employees. It is by understanding the motivation of their employees that companies can assist personal productivity. For many years companies saw the benefit of having social clubs and involving families in the corporate framework but this has taken a back seat in the last 20 years with company sports facilities and social activities severely curtailed. Diversity of interests in an age where almost any activity is within the reach of the average citizen means that providing for social needs is probably impractical. Giving the freedom for employees to manage their own social life is a more realistic proposition.

It might be argued that there is no point in satisfying workers needs at one level because they will only start wanting something else. In simple terms this is true but as one moves up the hierarchy, the nature of the needs change. The lack of fulfilment of lower needs detracts from outward performance because the needs are about the individual. The higher needs are about being productive and being acknowledged as being good at what one does. It is in the interests of businesses therefore to assist the worker up the hierarchy to the point where they are interested in achieving recognition for their achievements.




Towards a Psychology of being: Maslow - John Wiley & Sons; ISBN: 0471293091- (October 1998)

Maslow on Management: Maslow & Bennis - John Wiley and Sons; ISBN: 0471247804 - (21 August, 1998)

Motivation And Personality Harper & Row, New York, 1970

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