The hierarchy of needs is a characterization of an individual’s needs, as classified by Abraham Maslow in his 1943 research paper, A Theory of Human Motivation. In essence, this concept states that the most essential need of a person is physiological, such as having enough food and housing – essentially the base minimum needed for survival. When the employee pay level is low, motivations need to target their physiological needs, such as monetary rewards that can enhance their income. It is not useful to target any higher-level employee needs until physiological needs have been dealt with. According to Maslow, the second most essential need is for safety, which translates into job security and fringe benefits in the workplace. For example, offering health insurance to employees can be a powerful motivator, especially in places where it is too expensive to obtain health insurance. The third level of need is for belonging, which includes being accepted by fellow employees and being part of a group. This need can be met in the workplace by closely monitoring harassment and discrimination claims, and by fostering the development of work groups. The fourth level of need is for esteem, which involves the need for status, recognition, fame, prestige, and attention. A business can provide this by offering promotions, titles, and awards, as well as publishing the research results of employees or putting their names on patent applications. The final level in the hierarchy of needs is self-actualization, which is the realization of a person’s full potential. In this case, the motivation is more varied, perhaps encompassing extensive training programs, the chance to work on personal projects of interest for a certain proportion of the work week, or a lengthy sabbatical after a certain number of years of service. In short, an effective leader needs to be aware of where her employees fall within the hierarchy, and develop motivations that address their specific needs. The hierarchy of needs is portrayed in the following exhibit.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs