Maximizing Potential: Maslow's Pyramid at Work

coaching management Jun 12, 2023

Abraham Maslow (1954), a psychologist, developed the theory of human motivation based on a tiered leveling of requirements that must be met before progressing to the next level.

Inexperienced managers frequently make the mistake of expecting people to improve just because they say they will. [Note: There will always be exceptions and people who do not want to put in the effort. The following sections are not intended to describe those circumstances.]

Any manager will be hard pressed to see improvement until some foundational elements are in place. It is unreasonable to expect a person to focus on self-improvement when they are unsure where their next meal will come from or if they will have a roof over their head. These are examples of physiological requirements.

The next level in Maslow's hierarchy is safety; do I work in a safe environment, and do I believe that I will have a job tomorrow, or is it in jeopardy? With the increased frequency of layoffs, outsourcing, and corporate mandates that prioritize profits over people, there is a decreased sense of security or safety at work. The individual is constantly concerned about whether or not they will have a role tomorrow.

Following safety, social needs are prioritized; do I work with a good group of people, is my manager a good manager, do I trust my manager? Maslow defined this as the need for love, affection, and a sense of belonging. This is where the adage that people join companies for the salary, work environment, and safety, but leave managers. There are numerous factors that can play a role here, but the one that has the greatest impact on individuals is the feeling of acceptance and the creation of a virtuous cycle of acceptance among teachers, leaders, managers, and domain experts.

Esteem requirements must be satisfied after social needs; are people recognizing me for my job or for the work I do? An organization's administration and leadership facilitate this. It's crucial to realize that everyone will have a unique profile of how they choose to be identified. Some people cherish verbal praise, while others prefer cash or a brief note of appreciation. Similar in concept to Gottman's Languages of Love, if you try to express your gratitude to someone in a way that goes against how they naturally express it, they won't feel it.

Self-actualization is the last need that should be satisfied. People are reflective and perceptive at this point to determine their areas of greatest creativity and personal growth. This is not to argue that people cannot learn at earlier levels, only that they are less self-driven than those who have previously passed the earlier stages.

People will be more open to learning new things as long as the lower level needs are being addressed.


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