What Maslow can teach us about employee needs

Self-help is a multi-billion-dollar industry. It fills all bookstores and conference rooms as millions of hopefuls look to improve their lives by understanding what makes humans tick.

When it comes to the workplace, leaders often ponder the same — what motivates employees? What drives some to go the extra mile while others clock watch? Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs can provide clarity on how to effectively motivate employees and make sure their needs are met. In this blog, we explain how this hierarchy applies in the workplace, especially during the pandemic.  

A brief look at the Hierarchical Levels

The theory highlights the basic needs of humans in a five-tier pyramid model. Abraham Maslow introduced his theory “Maslow’s hierarchy of needs” in the 1943 paper “A Theory of Human Motivation” in Psychological Review.

Maslow categorised the needs in the following order:

Physiological: These are biological needs are essential for survival. Examples include food, water, shelter, air, clothing and sleep. One cannot survive and progress to the next level unless these needs are met.

Safety: Once the physiological needs are met, safety needs become more critical. People seek safety and security to protect themselves, which typically includes having emotional and financial security, health, and wellbeing. Family, friends and society are essential to achieving a sense of safety. 

Positive relationships (love and belonging): After the physiological and security need, people long for deeper human bonding and love from the surrounding. The need for interpersonal relationships triggers this stage. Having meaningful friendships, intimacy, trust, acceptance, receiving and giving affection, and love are examples in this hierarchy.

Esteem: The fourth level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs emphasises self-esteem needs. This includes the need for respect from others, recognition, and attention. It also includes self-respect, such as a need for competence, self-confidence, independence, and freedom.

Self-actualisation: This is the determination to achieve anything we put our minds to and to become the best version of ourselves. Everyone sees this level differently. Someone might fulfil this by competing at a major sporting event. Others might find this by expressing creativity through writing a fiction novel.

How Maslow’s hierarchy of needs applies to employee engagement

Employers can apply Maslow’s theory to understand their employee’s needs and whether it is met. On the first level, Maslow tells us how essential physiological needs truly are. For employees, this can come in the form of steady income to pay for food, rent, utilities and other living expenses. Next comes job security and a safe working environment. 

When the first two needs are satisfied, employees seek belongingness. This is achieved through healthy work cultures, supportive colleagues, and strong leadership. When there is a sense of belonging at work, employees are driven to work hard and achieve results. 

In the fourth stage, employees want recognition for their hard work. Appreciation and positive feedback from colleagues and management are necessary for employee engagement.  

The last level is self-actualisation, where employees want to maximise their impact and potential to lead and motivate others. A self-actualised employee feels challenged in their roles as well as ample opportunities to succeed.

Maslow explains that when people fail to meet their needs, their mental health is compromised, which affects their overall wellbeing. Likewise, when employees’ hierarchical needs are not matched, they show low levels of employee engagement. This affects employee morale, productivity, and retention severely.

Employee needs have changed during the pandemic

The pandemic has dramatically shifted the world of work. Employees are re-adjusting their lifestyles to adapt to a remote and hybrid environment which means their needs have also changed.  

Employers have asked a lot from employees, who are also juggling caring duties and home-schooling. It’s important to acknowledge them for the great job they’re doing.

Job security is higher on the agenda 

Employers need to urgently listen to their employees and provide as much job certainty as possible in this new world.

Evolved can help you understand what your employees want and need through Conversational AI. It allows employees to remain anonymous and will assist leaders in designing targeted efforts that contribute to employee engagement.

Employers need to deepen the connection 

Maintaining a great working culture should always be a top priority, pandemic or not. It can be the reason that any individual stays, or leaves. Here at Evolved, instead of just talking the talk about employee engagement, we walk the walk as well by continuously working on new programs or initiatives to ensure our team feels happy, motivated and challenged.

Jess Bordin, Marketing Manager at Evolved, started her role just over a year ago. Her first three months were in full stage 4 lockdown. 

“I’ll admit, it was quite hard, but there were plenty of measures in place to ensure I was able to settle in as close to normal as possible. I had 2 “Buddies” for my first six weeks, informal “Weekly Catch-Up Calls” with 2-3 new colleagues every week, and once a month, the whole company comes together for “Show & Tell”, which is always a good mix of fun and education.” To read more on this, check out Jess’s blog, Starting a new job in lockdown.

Start listening to your employees

Meeting employee needs is even more critical during this pandemic. Research shows only 29% of employees believe that their HR department understands what people need and want. So, instead of taking a stab in the dark, leaders need to start by listening to employees and ask the right questions.

Evolved Employee Listening champions a conversational approach to capturing employee feedback. Employees can share how they are feeling through regular conversations with their organisation’s feedback companion. This provides an anonymous and non-judgemental opportunity for employees to share how they feel with prompts to share as much feedback as possible.

Find out more

Check out our Employee Experience page or contact our team today.