Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Motivation in business goes far beyond giving your employees a ‘pep talk’ at the start of each week, or even offering them a bonus for a job well done on a given project. While it would be great to be able to simply talk your employees into working hard and staying focused, the reality of the situation is that human beings are far too complex for that strategy to be effective.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Rather, if you are going to be able to keep your employees motivated on an ongoing basis, you are going to need to understand them on a deeper level and make sure that their basic needs are being met.

This is where Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs comes into the picture from a business perspective. This interesting theory was first developed many decades ago, but it remains relevant as an important way to understand the motivations and desires of human beings. The hierarchy takes the shape of a pyramid with five levels, each level building on the one previous. Those five levels, in order from bottom to top, are as follows –

  • Biological and Physiological Needs
  • Safety Needs
  • Belongingness and Love Needs
  • Esteem Needs
  • Self-actualization

To better understand this theory and how it can be applied to business, we will take a closer look at each of the five levels in the content below.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Biological and Physiological Needs

These are the most-basic needs that a human being has while living on earth. Of course, as a business owner or manager, you aren’t going to have much to do with these needs being met. Some of the basic life needs that are included in this first stage of the pyramid are air, food, water, sleep, warmth, shelter, and so on.

The only way in which you are going to be contributing to these basic needs as an employer is by making sure your staff has the resources and opportunity to meet these needs. In other words, they need to be paid enough money in order to acquire shelter, food, drink, etc. Also, they need to have enough time off during a given day to get a proper amount of sleep. As long as your employees have the opportunity to meet these needs, you will have done all that you can do.

Safety Needs

In addition to having their simple biological needs met, humans have a need to feel safe and secure. This security can come from a number of areas, with things like protection by the police and laws of the government near the top of the list.

Safety and Security

However, stability is another piece of the safety puzzle, which is where you can come in as a business owner. If you can provide an environment that feels stable to your employees – in other words, they feel like they will keep their jobs as long as they perform adequately – you will be helping them to meet this need. No one likes to feel unstable or vulnerable, so you don’t want to create a work environment which fosters those negative emotions.

Belongingness and Love Needs

Human beings are social creatures, and as such, have a need to feel like they belong. While many of these feelings are going to come through their personal life with family and friends, a healthy work environment can also go a long way toward creating these feelings as well. When someone comes to work each day feeling excited about spending time with their co-workers, they are going to feel as though they belong – and this need will be largely met.

Belongingness and Love Needs

The need to feel a sense of belonging is part of the reason why working in teams is such a great idea. Not only do you get to take advantage of the many different ideas that are held by a variety of your team members, but you can also help them build relationships that may grow to extend outside of the office. Team building is not something to be scoffed at in the work setting – it can truly help your employees to meet one of their most-basic human needs.

Esteem Needs

As we continue to work our way up the pyramid, we find another need that can largely be met through the work setting. In this case, that need is esteem, meaning the achievement or status that one attains in life. Often, that is going to be closely related to their performance at work. A person who is able to consistently ‘climb the ladder’ while accomplishing things along the way is going to feel great about what they are doing professionally. That confidence and pride will usually extend to the rest of their life, and the positive emotions that started at work will soon apply across the board.


At the top of the pyramid, we find the need for self-actualization. Basically, this need is the feeling that an individual is only going to be completely satisfied when they are able to live up to their potential. Personal growth is a huge motivator, as long as the other needs farther down the pyramid have been met as well. When someone has the chance to be the best that they can be – in whatever area of life is being considered – they will feel proud and motivated to keep getting better. When working in a job that has little to no limits on what can be accomplished, self-actualization will feel like an attainable goal.

As a business owner, there is only so much you can do with regard to some of the steps along the way in this Hierarchy of Needs. However, there are steps that you can make much easier for your employees to achieve, including those regarding personal relationships, esteem, and self-actualization.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

When your employees can come to work each day with a feeling of excitement and optimism regarding what lies ahead, there is a good chance they will be motivated to give you their best effort.

Key Points

  • Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a motivational theory in psychology comprising a five tier model of human needs, often depicted as hierarchical levels within a pyramid.
  • Those five needs, in order from bottom to top, are: physiological, safety, belongingness, esteem, and self-actualization.
  • Physiological needs are the physical requirements for human survival.
  • Safety needs include: personal security, financial security, and health and well-being.
  • According to Maslow, humans need to feel a sense of belonging and acceptance among their social groups.
  • Esteem presents the typical human desire to be accepted and valued by others.
  • Maslow describes this level as the desire to accomplish everything that one can, to become the most that one can be.
  • When working in a job that has little to no limits on what can be accomplished, self-actualization will feel like an attainable goal.

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