Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

Ah, Maslow!   Probably one of the most-frequently quoted psychologists, yet how many of us can recall the detail of his famous hierarchy?

Abraham Maslow was an American behavioural psychologist who worked both in academia and industry.  He published a number of Human Relations books until the early '70's, but it was his first book, "Motivation and Personality", published in 1943, that set out his idea of the hierarchy of human needs.



Maslow argued that the factors that drive or motivate people to act lie on an ascending scale.  Once a group or order of needs is satisfied, the individual will not be motivated by more of the same, but will seek to satisfy higher order needs.  What's more, a higher order need will not be a motivator if lower order needs remain unmet.  Maslow defined five orders of needs, listed in ascending importance:

Physiological The basic survival requirements of warmth, shelter and food
Security Protection from danger of threat
Social Relations with others, expressed as friendship comradeship or love
Self-Respect Sense of personal worth, respect and autonomy
Self-Actualisation Sense of achieving your full potential

Thus, for example, we won't be concerned about working relationships or professional achievement if we are truly concerned for our own security.  By the same token, a manager won't motivate someone by talking about personal ambition and achievement if that person feels he's about to lose his job.

Of course, Maslow's ideas were applied to the complete range of human experience, whereas for most us, Physiological and Security needs are usually met to a large extent.  But recent history has shown that when individuals are homeless, hungry and under threat, all social systems and self-respect break down.

Despite this, Maslow's hierarchy still applies to modern commercial life, and managers would do well to think in these terms when trying to motivate staff. 

There have been a number of variations on Mazlow over the years.  Some split Physiological needs down into Energy (food, warmth) and Protection (shelter).  Others have added Power - the need for influence over the actions of others, either person-to-person, or group-to-group.


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