Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Definition: Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is the phenomena stating that human beings follow a systematic upward order of wants or requirements. The bottom-most level involves physiological necessities while the topmost level is the desire of attaining self-actualization. Thus, at each level of needs fulfilment, human motivation rises.

While this theory is old enough, it still seems to be highly relevant for managers and widely used in companies for employee satisfaction and career pathing. The managers can plan for workers’ promotion and retention with the help of the need hierarchy theory.

Content: Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Explained

Maslow’s need hierarchy theory was first suggested in the paper “A Theory of Human Motivation” by the great human psychologist Abraham Maslow in 1943.

Later, in 1954, the concept was further improvised by Maslow in his book “Motivation and Personality”. While it was primarily a contribution to the field of psychology, at present, it is universally applied in various disciplines like management and sociology.

Now, when we say needs, we mean all the human requirements and wants. According to Maslow, a human being always follows a systematic order of wants where there are five levels represented in a pyramid structure. Only after achieving the bottom level needs of the pyramid, a person wishes to attain the next level wants or desires.

Levels of Hierarchy

Maslow proposed the following five levels of needs that human beings step up in their journey:

Levels of Hierarchy

Physiological Needs: Human beings initially urge to fulfil their basic requirements without which their survival is difficult. These needs comprise food, shelter, home and good health.

Safety Needs: After acquiring basic necessities, people thrive to achieve security for themselves and their family members. It involves workplace safety, financial security, job security and physical safety.

Love and Belonging Needs: Then comes the social needs i.e., the desires for love, intimacy, care, friendship and family. It is when people socialize and interact with their surroundings to avoid depression, sadness and loneliness.

Esteem Needs: At this level, human beings crave respect, status, recognition and appreciation in personal and professional lives. Also, people ensure self-development to gain self-respect, by becoming confident, independent, dignified and competent.

Self-Actualization Needs: This is the highest level of human needs as stated by Maslow. After realizing the above wants, human beings thrive for inner happiness and their highest potential. It can be anything from fulfilling dreams or the following passion to nourishing talent or learning new skills.

Deficiency Needs vs Growth Needs

While discussing the different kinds of needs, we must understand that Maslow’s need hierarchy theory levels can be divided into two categories. The first one is deficiency needs and the other is growth needs.

Deficiency needs are a result of motivation from inadequacies, a person faces in life. All the first four levels i.e., physiological, safety, love and belonging and esteem needs belong to this category. Such wants are materialistic and after attainment, no longer motivates a person.

Whereas, the motivation behind the growth needs is self-development goals. The last level of this theory i.e., the desire for self-actualization represents growth needs. A person’s motivation thrives higher with the increasing intent to nourish himself/herself as these are considered to be the spiritual needs.

Examples of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Joe Phillips completed his graduation and started looking out for a job with decent pay. He joined DND Enterprises as an Operation Executive. Joe was very happy and energetic since he was now able to pay for all his physiological needs like food, house rent, health and other necessities.

Similarly, Mrs Patrick is a Production Manager at TS Pvt Ltd. She was awarded in the corporate meet as the best employee of the year, for her remarkable contribution to the company’s growth. This made her felt proud and fulfilled her esteem needs.

Mr Daniel is the Managing Director of a renowned company. He voluntarily left the job in his fifties to attain his self-actualization needs. He always dreamt of becoming a guitarist but due to responsibilities, he was unable to learn this skill earlier. Now, after retirement, he joined the guitar school.

Importance of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in Management

Now, you may think that what is the significance of Maslow’s Need Hierarchy Theory?

While this concept came into the limelight as part of psychological research, it has immensely contributed to the human resource practice. Let us discuss the various ways in which this theory has proved to be useful for managers:

Importance of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs in Management
  • Influence Target Customers: Organizations can apply this theory to understand the needs of customers and figure out their target audience. For example, a scooter company will target the lower middle class who are still fulfilling their deficiency needs.
  • Employee Satisfaction: Human resource managers often use this theory to design the wage structure of the company. It also helps in planning for the workers’ growth and development. For example, a company offers training opportunity to a senior engineer for operating the new machinery.
  • Ensure Financial Security and Job Security: The employer can enhance the company policies concerning the financial and job security of the employees. For example, a competent employee left the job when his co-worker was laid off from the company due to business downfall.
  • Healthy Work Culture: The companies which give sheer attention to employee satisfaction, need fulfilment and growth, rather than only focusing on customer satisfaction can achieve a more positive work culture and environment.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Criticisms

While Abraham Maslow was the man who acknowledged human needs in his theory was considered to be unreasonable by some scientists. His theory was criticized because of the following reasons:

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs Criticisms
  • Based on Observations: Many people believed that this theory cannot be justified as it is concluded with the help of observations and lacks conceptual analysis.
  • No Fixed Hierarchy: People have different mindsets and it may not always be necessary that they follow this hierarchy in their lives. It can be possible that a person prioritizes esteem needs over his/her security needs.
  • Cultural Biasness: While the bottom two levels of the pyramid i.e., the physiological and safety needs are common for all, the above three levels are unattainable by the poor people and represent the western culture.

Even after so many years, this magical pyramid of needs does wonders for business entities. It is a part of the curriculum for the students, this itself states the significance of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

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