We’ve been looking at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs this week at Engagement Multiplier, and it struck us how similar the needs are of individuals, employees – and organizations.

Not familiar with Maslow’s work? Our summary will get you up to speed.

About Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Abraham Maslow introduced his Hierarchy of Needs in a 1943 paper called “A Theory of Human Motivation.” So, no, he wasn’t studying the science of corporate engagement, though, and instead was studying rhesus monkeys. But the learnings are relevant to humans nonetheless.

Maslow posited that motivation is the result of attempting to fulfill five basic needs:

  • Physiological: Food, water warmth, rest.
  • Safety: Order, predictability, and control.
  • Love and belonging: Positive relationships with others.
  • Esteem: Feelings of self-worth and accomplishment.
  • Self-actualization: Seeking personal growth and fulfillment.

Maslow’s theory states that we must have our basic needs met first. Then, once satisfied, we become more concerned with higher-level needs.

Maslow's Heirarchy of Human Needs Pyramid
Source: Engagement Multiplier

The foundation of Maslow’s hierarchy is ensuring survival necessities: Food, water, shelter, sleep, etc. Then, in order of importance, we seek safety, relationships (love, friendship, belonging), status/achievement, and finally, personal growth and fulfillment (aka self-actualization).

But when you look at this hierarchy within what an employee needs to thrive and become enthusiastically engaged at work, some interesting insights emerge.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Applied to Employee Engagement

Employee Engagement Hierarchy Pyramid from Engagement Multiplier
Source: Engagement Multiplier

Building a thriving and productive employee environment means meeting basic need requirements, and that’s only possible through money. With substantial compensation, survival is not a concern, and we can move on to our next goal: security. Simply put, we want to know that our jobs will be there for us tomorrow – and if we’re uncertain, it’s tough to concentrate on anything else.

But once we have money and security, most of us aren’t satisfied unless we reach for something more. If more isn’t possible, neither is engagement, and you can forget about having a motivated workforce!

Yet it’s amazing how many employers feel that money and job security are all their employees can rightfully demand of them. The best employers know differently and understand some fundamental principles that employees need.

Below we explain how each element of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs translates to workplace and employee engagement.

Physiological needs = Money

Money makes the world go round. Compensation allows employees to meet basic needs like shelter, food, and warmth. If your employee only has this one need met by their job, they’re disengaged. Employees at this stage show up for the money because they need to.

Safety needs = Job security

The need for safety within work and engagement equates to job security. Employees want to know their job will be there when they come to work without fear of losing it. If employees feel their position is unstable, they’re likely to spend their time looking for other roles and will not contribute because they don’t see a path forward. On the other hand, employees with only their physiological and safety needs satisfied will show up to work to make money and stay in their role because it’s stable. Again, not because they want to.

Love and belonging needs = Camaraderie & inclusion with coworkers

In recent years, a sense of belonging at work has become even more critical. We wrote a whole article on it. Employees who feel like they belong genuinely feel safe, secure, and supported. They have no fear of sharing their ideas, believe their leaders and colleagues support them and feel truly valued for their contributions. You can begin to see the tell-tale signs of an engaged workforce at this stage. Energized team members are active contributors and create an impact on the organization.

Esteem needs = Importance and purpose of work

To enrich and build up employee morale and self-esteem, employers can help ensure employees feel a sense of purpose. Creating a company purpose that resonates with employees allows them to see how their work makes a difference. For example, our aim at Engagement Multiplier is to: Unlock hidden potential and improve the lives of owners, leaders, and employees.

As our team works with clients, we can see our engaged purpose create an impact, and we take pride in the improvements we’re helping businesses make.

Self-actualization needs = Room to grow

Self-actualization at work is what we would call “room to grow.” Employees who reach this level are engaged and most likely self-managing, which means all they need is a little encouragement to run with their ideas, which is what you want as a leader. At this stage, you’ll be rewarded with high employee engagement, lower turnover, and higher profitability since you’ve met your employees’ basic needs.

By building out a version of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs specifically for the workplace, we find a roadmap of what companies reach for and aspire to achieve. Ultimately, we see the building blocks of a success story bursting with engagement.

As a business grows, an engaged workforce becomes increasingly important. You can survive without employee engagement, but your business won’t be as profitable or successful without happy, committed, cohesive employees; they are your foundation.

Maslow wanted to understand what motivates people, resulting in his theory of a hierarchy of needs. So, if you want to know if your employees are getting what they need to be motivated and engaged at work, ask yourself how well your business enables them to meet those higher-level needs of feeling part of something larger, appreciated, and leadership opportunities.