Maslow's Need Hierarchy Theories

The most prominent need hierarchy theory was developed a halfcentury ago by psychologist Abraham Maslow. Maslow’s theory appealed to managers because it was easy to remember. It contains five types of needs that are arranged in a hierarchy of strength and influence, starting with the most essential:

1. Physiological needs: The need for the basic essentials of life, such as water, food, and shelter.
2. Security (safety) needs: The need to feel safe and secure.
3. Social (belongingness) needs: The need to be loved and accepted by other people.
4. Esteem needs: The need for self-respect and respect from other people.
5. Self-actualization needs: The need to be personally fulfilled, to feel a sense of achievement and accomplishment and, especially, to develop one’s own unique talents to their highest possible levels.

The essence of Maslow’s need hierarchy theory is that an individual is motivated to satisfy the most basic needs first (such as physiological needs) and then, once those are satisfied, move to the next level. According to this theory, only when their most basic needs have been met will people be able to concentrate on satisfying higher-order needs. However, if these persons’ basic physiological and security needs should become threatened, they would then be likely to revert to focusing on those lower-order needs. They would decrease their efforts to satisfy social, esteem, and achievement needs until or unless the threat has passed.

The key to understanding a person’s motivation from a need hierarchy perspective, then, is to identify the person’s most basic need that is not yet being met. For the Thai garment workers in Los Angeles, that level would be the most basic: physiological needs. Once a need has been satisfied, however, it ceases to be a motivator unless its fulfillment is threatened again. But, if it is threatened, than a more basic need becomes the focus of attention.

Managers, however, may have some opportunities to help ensure that employees’ safety needs are not threatened and that security needs are met as much as possible. By contrast, there are probably many ways that managers and organizations can provide their employees with innovative opportunities to satisfy a variety of social, esteem, and even self-actualization needs.