Climbing the “hierarchy of needs” to find employee engagement

In 1943, psychologist Abraham Maslow set out his “hierarchy of needs.” This theory suggested that human behavior is a response to a variety of needs ranging from physical survival to self-actualization.

At this point, you may be wondering, “What does any of this have to do with my business?” The answer is that truly engaged employees are motivated by needs other than just financial compensation.

5 tiers of needs

As mentioned, Maslow theorized that humans have various needs to live a fulfilling life. The hierarchy, beginning with the most basic needs, comprises the following five tiers:

1. Physiological needs, such as air, food, drink and shelter,
2. Safety needs, such as security, order and protection from the elements,
3. Social needs, such as relationships, family and affection,
4. Esteem needs, such as healthy self-esteem, achievement, independence and managerial responsibility, and

5. Self-actualization needs, such as realizing personal potential, self-fulfillment and personal growth.

Generally, compensation covers the first tier. Money allows people to nourish themselves and obtain a place to live. (Air is usually free.) Job security and stability, as well as benefits, contribute to the second tier, meeting a person’s safety needs and need for order. And many people are able to meet at least some of their belongingness and other social needs at work (Tier 3).

The last two

It’s the last two tiers that are often trickiest for employers. To empower employees to meet Tiers 4 and 5 at work, you’ll need to learn the specific motivations to which each person seems to respond.

For example, esteem needs could be satisfied by offering various forms of praise to strong performers and those who help others. Meanwhile, self-actualization needs can be met by establishing clear career paths that include promotions.

Critical component

Your employees have needs and motivations in common with most of the people on the planet. The key is creating a workplace that helps meet these needs and, in turn, produces that critical component of any successful organization — the engaged employee.

© 2016