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Applying Maslow’s Hierarchy to Employee Engagement [Slideshow]

When it was introduced in 1943, Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs was groundbreaking. It presented a positive view of human psychology and motivation, theorizing that people need to have basic needs met before they can address higher needs and eventually, in some cases, achieve self-actualization.

Maslow’s breakthrough has implications far beyond the realm of psychology. The hierarchy, nearly always presented as a pyramid, is a staple of business classes, where it is often used as a framework for understanding both buyer behavior and employee motivation.

In this article, we explore Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and its connection to employee engagement.

The Hierarchy: An Overview

Maslow divided human needs into five levels or stages, beginning with basic needs, progressing from physiological needs and eventually rising to self-actualization needs. The basic premise of the hierarchy is that one level needs to be satisfied before the individual can begin addressing needs on next highest level. The levels, from lowest to highest, as described by Maslow, are:

  • Physiological needs: Food, water, shelter, warmth, sleep
  • Safety needs: Shelter, security, law, stability, freedom from fear
  • Love and belongingness needs: Friendship, intimacy, trust, acceptance, affection, love, being part of a group
  • Esteem needs: Achievement, mastery, independence, status, dominance, prestige, self-respect, respect from others
  • Self-actualization needs: Realizing personal potential, self-fulfillment, personal growth

    Be aware that not everyone agrees on this hierarchy. A few critics say Maslow wasn’t detailed in his research and tended to oversimplify some aspects of human needs, and that it might not be necessary to complete one level before progressing to another. Another small group of critics says Maslow didn’t account for the need for collaboration in progressing from lower levels to higher levels.

    Overall, however, Maslow’s hierarchy is well known, commonly accepted and used for a wide variety of applications. As the slide deck below explains, the hierarchy is a valuable tool that helps leaders understand how to motivate, reward and engage employees.

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