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.” No, he wasn’t studying the science of corporate engagement, though he might well have been – he was studying rhesus monkeys.

Maslow posited that motivation is the result of attempting to fulfill five basic needs: Physical, safety, social, esteem, and self-actualization. Basic needs must be met first, and when they are met, 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 survival necessities: Food, water, shelter, sleep, etc. From there, 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 the context of what an employee needs to thrive and become enthusiastically engaged, some interesting insights emerge.

Employee Engagement Hierarchy According to Engagement Multiplier

Employee Engagement Hierarchy Pyramid from Engagement Multiplier
Source: Engagement Multiplier

Just like Maslow’s monkeys, human employees have to have their basic needs met before they can do anything else. Our most basic need as an employee is also tied to survival: Money. Once we have money, our next goal is job security. We want to know that our jobs will be there for us tomorrow – and if we’re uncertain, it’s very hard 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 different and understand some fundamental principles that employees need.

Important Needs of the Engagement Pyramid:

  • A sense of camaraderie – that we’re all working together for an important purpose. This is what we call an Engaged Purpose, the first step we ask business owners to take on their engagement journeys.
  • Feeling appreciated – knowing that what you do makes a positive impact and that people value your contributions.
  • Self-actualization – 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. (Read our previous The Best Employee Engagement Ideas Come from Empowered People)

This theory of motivation isn’t only true for people – it’s also true for businesses.

Let’s see what happens when we apply Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to businesses.

If we build out a Maslow hierarchy of corporate needs, we find a roadmap of what companies reach for and aspire to. We see the building blocks of a success story.

And, you’ll also see, if you look very closely, the building blocks of engagement. Notice that as the business grows, engagement becomes increasingly important.

You can survive without engagement, but it won’t be nearly as profitable, or successful without happy, committed, cohesive employees. They are your foundation.

Transferable Insight

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