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Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

You enter the car showroom looking for a vehicle. The first thing the salesperson will do is make sure you have something to drink, perhaps something to eat, and that that you are comfortable (thus the well lit showrooms with seating and tables). They are meeting your basic physiological needs.

The showroom and lot appear safe, good lighting, lots of people around, an island of safety in which to shop for a car or truck. The dealership is meeting your need for safety and security.

The salesperson calls you by name, discussed your family and "theirs", and if appropriate touch (handshake, shoulder and so forth).

The esteem level comes when you get behind the wheel. Their job is to talk you up and get you a vehicle you will love that will also enhance you self esteem and image. Does the vehicle give you confidence, make you feel successful, gain you the respect of others or earn you respect from those you wish to look up to or respect you?

Self Actualization is an issue beyond what anyone else can do for you. The explanation varies by field, by interpretation, by context. In a way if you feel good about yourself and if the vehicle meets your needs at the highest level it may contribute to your self-actualization. A person may feel self actualized with a used car, or a bicycle for that matter.

This in a nutsell is Maslow. A pyramid, not a triangle, built on a foundation that must be strong and with each new level needing to be on a sound foundation for the levels above to be strong and successful.

Most of the world lives at the bottom two levels. Most of the educated industrial world lives in the botom four levels. The top level is very difficult to achieve, if even possible.

Self-actualization is the summit of Maslow's motivation theory. It is about the quest of reaching one's full potential as a person. Unlike lower level needs, this need is never fully satisfied; as one grows psychologically there are always new opportunities to continue to grow.
Self-actualized people tend to have motivators such as:
  • Truth
  • Justice
  • Wisdom
  • Meaning
Self-actualized persons have frequent occurrences of peak experiences, which are energized moments of profound happiness and harmony. According to Maslow, only a small percentage of the population reaches the level of self-actualization.

Click here for further details, explanation and examples of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs.

Esteem Needs

After a person feels that they "belong", the urge to attain a degree of importance emerges. Esteem needs can be categorized as external motivators and internal motivators.
Internally motivating esteem needs are those such as self-esteem, accomplishment, and self respect.  External esteem needs are those such as reputation and recognition.
Some examples of esteem needs are:
  • Recognition (external motivator) 
  • Attention (external motivator) 
  • Social Status (external motivator) 
  • Accomplishment (internal motivator) 
  • Self-respect (internal motivator)
Maslow later improved his model to add a layer in between self-actualization and esteem needs: the need for aesthetics and knowledge.

Social Needs

Once a person has met the lower level physiological and safety needs, higher level motivators awaken. The first level of higher level needs are social needs. Social needs are those related to interaction with others and may include:
  • Friendship
  • Belonging to a group
  • Giving and receiving love

Safety Needs

Once physiological needs are met, one's attention turns to safety and security in order to be free from the threat of physical and emotional harm. Such needs might be fulfilled by:
  • Living in a safe area
  • Medical insurance
  • Job security
  • Financial reserves
According to the Maslow hierarchy, if a person feels threatened, needs further up the pyramid will not receive attention until that need has been resolved.

Physiological Needs

Physiological needs are those required to sustain life, such as:
  • Air
  • Water
  • Food
  • Sleep
According to this theory, if these fundamental needs are not satisfied then one will surely be motivated to satisfy them. Higher needs such as social needs and esteem are not recognized until one satisfies the needs basic to existence.

Applying Maslow's Needs Hierarchy - Business Management Implications

If Maslow's theory is true, there are some very important leadership implications to enhance workplace motivation. There are staff motivation opportunities by motivating each employee through their style of management, compensation plans, role definition, and company activities.
  • Physiological Motivation: Provide ample breaks for lunch and recuperation and pay salaries that allow workers to buy life's essentials.
  • Safety Needs: Provide a working environment which is safe, relative job security, and freedom from threats.
  • Social Needs: Generate a feeling of acceptance, belonging, and community by reinforcing team dynamics.
  • Esteem Motivators: Recognize achievements, assign important projects, and provide status to make employees feel valued and appreciated.
  • Self-Actualization: Offer challenging and meaningful work assignments which enable innovation, creativity, and progress according to long-term goals.
Remember, everyone is not motivated by same needs.  At various points in their lives and careers, various employees will be motivated by completely different needs. It is imperative that you recognize each employee's needs currently being pursued. In order to motivate their employees, leadership must be understand the current level of needs at which the employee finds themselves, and leverage needs for workplace motivation.

Maslow's Theory - Limitations and Criticism

Though Maslow's hierarchy makes sense intuitively, little evidence supports its strict hierarchy. Actually, recent research challenges the order that the needs are imposed by Maslow's pyramid. As an example, in some cultures, social needs are placed more fundamentally than any others. Further, Maslow's hierarchy fails to explain the "starving artist" scenario, in which the aesthetic neglects their physical needs to pursuit of aesthetic or spiritual goals. Additionally, little evidence suggests that people satisfy exclusively one motivating need at a time, other than situations where needs conflict.
While scientific support fails to reinforce Maslow's hierarchy, his thery is very popular, being the introductory motivation theory for many students and managers, worldwide. To handle a number of the issues of present in the Needs Hierarchy, Clayton Alderfer devised the ERG theory, a consistent needs-based model that aligns more accurately with scientific research.

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