Motivational Theory: Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and How to Use It Successfully

Ever give someone a raise, or get one, and find that that person or you still aren’t motivated? 

This is Part 1 of a 5 part mini-series on Motivational Theories to help understand why that happens and how to prevent it from happening.

We’re exploring the psychology behind human performance and the science behind what makes people tick because understanding that is the key to crafting an environment that fuels focus, enthusiasm, productivity and as importantly, life satisfaction.

And today we’re diving into one of the better known motivational theories, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. 

We’ll explain what it is, dispel a widespread belief about it, give you a short summary of research exploring if it works, and then give you some tips on how to use it successfully in your life, team and/or company.

This motivational theory was developed by Psychologist Abraham Maslow in his 1943 paper “A Theory of Human Motivation.” 

For the sake of illustrating the levels, picture human needs like a pyramid. Starting at the bottom:

  • Physiological needs: Food, water, shelter, air, sleep, clothing, reproduction
  • Safety needs: Personal security, employment, resources, health, property
  • Love and belonging: Family, friendship, intimacy, a sense of connection
  • Esteem: Status, recognition, self-esteem, respect
  • Self-actualization: The ability to reach your full potential

Here’s the common misconception in this theory, you don’t have to complete one level before moving to the next. In his paper, Maslow clarifies that his hierarchy of needs isn’t quite as sequential as the pyramid framework might lead people to believe. Rather, think of these needs as a web of interconnected needs where you can work on more than one level at a time. He said in his paper, “No need or drive can be treated as if it were isolated or discrete; every drive is related to the state of satisfaction or dissatisfaction of other drives.”

If you’re saying to yourself, “OK cool information, does this actually work?”

A paper titled the Impact of Need Satisfaction on Employee Intrinsic Motivation and Innovation published in the Journal of Business Ethics

examined the relationship between Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and employee motivation in the context of innovation. 

Researchers surveyed over 200 employees from various industries about their need satisfaction in relation to Maslow’s five levels The study found that:

  • Meeting basic needs (physiological and safety) was essential to fostering a baseline level of motivation. Employees lacking in these areas demonstrated lower engagement and innovation.
  • Satisfying higher-order needs (love/belonging, esteem, and self-actualization) further enhanced motivation and innovative behavior. Employees experiencing strong connections with colleagues, feeling valued and respected, and having opportunities for growth showed higher levels of intrinsic motivation and engagement in creative activities.

The Key takeaway from this study is that applying Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs as a framework can help you address both basic and higher-order needs within teams, creating an environment that fosters not only basic satisfaction but also increased motivation and innovative behavior.

Some tips how to apply this motivational framework successfully.

You can’t build a motivated team unless you have the basics in place. Before pushing for self-actualization, ensure your crew has: 

Fair salaries and benefits: No motivational talk can fill an empty stomach or ease financial stress. 

Safe and secure work environment: Feeling physically and emotionally safe is crucial for focus and engagement. 

Connection and belonging: Foster a positive team culture, encourage collaboration, and create opportunities for social interaction.

Think of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs as a web of interconnected needs. While meeting those base needs is crucial, don’t neglect the higher levels. Provide challenging work, opportunities for growth, and recognition for achievements. That’s how you fuel intrinsic motivation and help your team climb to the top!

Your move!

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