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Maslow’s Pyramid of Needs

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Maslow's hierarchy of needs, a scalable vector illustration on white background

Author: Future Manager Research Center

Economic science is the allocation of limited resources according to the infinite needs, motivations and expectations of individuals. But, how do you define needs?

In 1954, the American psychologist Abraham Harold Maslow formulated a pyramid of needs. It is a motivational model of human development based on a “hierarchy of needs”, that is a series of five “needs” arranged hierarchically on the basis of which the satisfaction of the most elementary needs is the condition for bringing out the needs of a higher order.

The structure of his pyramid starts from the bottom and proceeds upwards. It represents the priority of human needs, which determine human behaviour. Physical needs represent the lower-order needs whilst socio-psychological needs represent the higher order needs. In Maslow’s model, dissatisfaction is a strong motivator for behaviour. According to Maslow, the pyramid is structured in this way (from lowest to highest):

  • Physiological needs: it is the physical level of our basic survival needs (food, water and shelter); they are the first to have to be satisfied because of the instinct for self-preservation.
  • Safety needs: to this category belong all those needs (security, health and finances) that guarantee the individual tranquillity and calm.
  • Belonging needs: it is well known that even the most accomplished man in the world feels an indispensable impulse, which consists in feeling loved, appreciated and desired. For this reason the category of needs of belonging includes the spheres of love, friendship and family.

These first three levels in Maslow’s hierarchy correspond to the basic needs that are essential to the nature of human beings. If we are struggling to meet our basic physical and safety needs, we’re likely to experience the conditions of Hell, Hunger, Anger and Animality.  When our psychological needs are met, we achieve Tranquility and Heaven. If at the base of the pyramid there were the most essential needs for survival, going up towards the top we encounter intangible needs. The last two levels are the ones that lead to self-actualization. This status can only be reached when all other needs of the lower stages are satisfied. Self-actualization needs can be explained as desires that make the fullest use of one’s potential and personal development.

  • Esteem needs: they encompass accomplishment, freedom, and self-confidence, which correspond to Learning and Realization. The individual wants to feel competent and productive.
  • Accomplishment needs: finally, there is the level of self-actualization, fulfilment of potential, discovery of purpose and clarity of perception. It is the desire to realize one’s own identity on the basis of expectations and potential and to occupy a social role by exploiting one’s mental and physical faculties.

As previously anticipated, as soon as an individual fulfils the needs at each level, he or she reaches higher levels. Once the fundamental psychological, safety and social needs have to be satisfied, the higher order needs become relevant. While basic needs, once satisfied, tend not to recur, social and relational needs tend to be reborn with new and more ambitious goals to be achieved.

The focus of Maslow’s thinking is more evident when applied to everyday life. It follows that dissatisfaction, both at work and in public and private life, is a very widespread phenomenon that can find its cause in the failure to realize one’s potential. From a business point of view, this indicates the need to modulate the management style and the definition of objectives based on the level of satisfaction of the person’s needs. It follows that all possible elements of contrast between the development process of the worker and that of the company context in which he is inserted must be detected.

Now we can imagine Maslow’s pyramid applied to business and discover how employees can be supported to reach the highest levels of self-actualization, enabling businesses to achieve excellence and financial success. The five levels can thus be translated with practical tricks that a leader can implement to optimize the performance of his workforce:

  •  Physiological sphere can be represented by a welcoming work environment ready to provide support for any employee need. By this, we mean an environment that is effectively well-kept, clean and in compliance with the law.
  • The Safety need at work is when all colleagues treat each other respectfully. An employee will feel free to take risks, so the margin of error will be minimized.
  • Giving everyone the opportunity to be heard and understood creates a sense of community, result: coworkers are part of something bigger, in total respect of Maslow’s Belonging need category.
  • A worker’s self-esteem is cultivated through proper recognition of the work of an employee. Demonstrating it in words or, when possible, with bonuses, only adds quality to future operations.
  • The application of Accomplishment in business is to give employees the opportunity to think outside the box, to be creative, to have a vision for their personal future together with the future of the company

Do you think the Maslow pyramid can be applied to your company’s business? If so, are you heading in the right direction?