Maslow's hierarchy of needs in the workplace

4 features of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs in the workplace

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs in the workplace is the implementation of the famous theory of motivation and human needs developed by the American psychologist Abraham Maslow in the early 1940s.

Given the popularity of this theory and, more importantly, the utility it can have when it comes to making decisions about workers’ mental well-being at work, in this article we want to reflect on the effectiveness of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs in the workplace. 

Features of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs in the workplace

Maslow’s pyramid expresses a certain organization of human needs that must be satisfied in order for us to live satisfactorily. These needs and the way they are organized can be transferred to the professional sphere. Thus, we find a Maslow pyramid in the workplace that can serve as a guide when making decisions about corporate culture or how to take better care of employee experience

pirámide de Maslow en el ámbito laboral

When we talk about the organization of worker’s needs according to their importance following the structure of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs in the workplace, there are 4 aspects that we can take into account: 

1. Workers’ needs are of different kinds

Although all the needs included in a hypothetical Maslow pyramid in the workplace are important, they are not all composed of the same “material”. Some needs are more basic and concrete and are placed at the base. Others, on the other hand, are more subtle and abstract and are therefore placed higher in the hierarchy. 

2. Worker’s needs are met in an orderly manner

The satisfaction of needs follows a linear order and, in the case of the pyramid, a vertical order. This way, the most subtle needs are based on the most basic ones: it is not possible to satisfy the most subtle needs if the basic ones are not covered. 

In fact, according to a supposed Maslow pyramid in the workplace, it is the satisfaction of the basics that stimulates in us the desire for something higher, more subtle. It would be something that is no longer purely nutritional but touches on other areas of our professional life, such as recognition or personal fulfillment through work. 

3. Some needs are more valuable than others

On a biological level, it is more important for our work to allow us to survive – or not to jeopardize our lives – than for it to provide us with enormous gratification or respond to our vocation. 

However, it seems to follow from Maslow’s pyramid in the workplace that, although not more important, subtle needs are more prestigious than basic needs. This makes them an aspiration to strive for, a culmination of the employee’s experience.  

4. Needs combine the individual and the relational

Needs – also in the workplace – relate personal aspects (support for one’s own integrity, perception of security, protection, and self-fulfillment) with relational aspects (affiliation and recognition). There is no such thing as a completely isolated worker, much less in the context of a company or large organization. 

What if the pyramid was round?

Although what has been said so far sounds coherent, the theories that work to explain the motivation and behavior of human beings in life in general, without specifying any context, may not be completely transferable to any particular scenario. 

This could be the case with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs in the workplace.

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Why the pyramid works (partly)

Apparently, the scheme that Maslow proposed decades ago to talk about human needs and motivation also works for work. 

After all, we all need security when we work, we are influenced by the people we work with, we have our own little heart when it comes to showing our performance to others (what psychologists call “ego”) and, in short, we work to make certain important values real in our lives. 

However, does Maslow’s pyramid work in the world of work as the best explanation of employee motivation, behavior, and experience?

It probably does work as a good explanation, but it may not be the best possible explanation. 

pirámide de Maslow en el ámbito laboral

Going against the pyramid

We have mentioned that Maslow’s hierarchy of needs in the workplace expresses a linear, vertical and hierarchical structure in terms of the satisfaction of needs: first some and then others; some more important, others more secondary; some that appear and are satisfied only if others of a more basic order have been satisfied. 

But then the questions we have already outlined arise: Does Maslow’s hierarchy of needs in the workplace correspond to the true organization of employee needs in a given company? Is Maslow’s pyramid model for human needs fully transferable to the workplace?

If the pure pyramid model were completely true, as workers we would only consider the importance of a good work environment or working in something meaningful to us once we were sure that the pay was “enough” or that our job would not literally kill us. 

A more interactive and less linear structure

In reality, many people already need their work to satisfy them even before they know how much they will be paid and, of course, they do not consider that the building where they will do it will fall down on them: they take it for granted that this will not happen, that is, that it is a need that is already more or less covered from the beginning. 

On the other hand, many people accept jobs that they do not want, that they do not perform, just because they will earn more money than they need or because of the prestige that their position will give them, without considering anything beyond that (okay, maybe because it is the prestige itself or the abundance of money that makes them do it). Other people accept jobs in which they will earn almost below their needs just because they like the task, or they stay in jobs that are highly interesting to them despite the fact that nobody recognizes their work or that they do not have good colleagues. 

In other words, the linear and hierarchical order of satisfaction indicated by Maslow’s hierarchy of needs in the workplace is not wrong, but it is inaccurate since workers’ motivations do not always follow a perfectly linear structure that goes from the most basic to the most subtle.

Sometimes they do, because first things first, and without security and sustenance it is very difficult to consider recognition and self-fulfillment. Other times, however, motivations and needs are in dialogue with each other, interacting and influencing each other within a more circular structure, more relative and less predictable than the famous pyramid. 

Building a good pyramid for employees

Ifeel has developed an emotional well-being program for companies, designed by its team of expert psychologists with one main objective: to help companies place employee health at the top of their strategic pyramid when they want to boost sustainable productivity.  

Thanks to this partnership, the people in charge of HR departments can receive personalized, data-driven advice on how to properly manage the different types of needs of their team members, whether they ask for it or not, and be more efficient in boosting their psychological well-being. 

On the other hand, this program offers employees a holistic mental health care service structured at different levels according to their needs. This service includes, if required, online psychological therapy with a psychologist specialized in cases like theirs. Try our program now so you can see how it could help you.

We hope you found this post about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs in the workplace interesting. If you want more information about our emotional well-being program for companies get in touch and we will contact your team as soon as possible. You may also be interested in this post about the advantages of using ifeel’s workplace mental health platform.

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