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Maslow's Pyramid is 70 years old and still standing

Updated: Apr 13

As we mark the 70th anniversary of Maslow's hierarchy of needs, this reflection introduces a thoughtful expansion to the original framework, incorporating three additional dimensions: communication, vision, and oneness.

This expansion builds upon the foundational layers established by Maslow with a more detailed approach of the highest level of the hierarchy, self-realization, which has often been overlooked, maybe because of its spiritual connotation… Among these novel contributions, oneness stands out, drawing inspiration from Maslow's own addition of transcendence in his later works. This advanced layer emphasizes the profound interconnectedness of all individuals and nature, advocating for a realization that extends to sustainable development, symbolizing a holistic understanding of our place within the world. The expanded hierarchy, now comprising eight distinct needs, maintains the sequential order crucial to Maslow's original theory:

  1. Physiological Needs: The foundation of the pyramid, addressing basic survival needs such as food, water, and shelter, ensured by the organization, including HR, through fair compensation and benefits.

  2. Security Needs: Following physiological needs, this layer focuses on personal safety, health, and financial security, also supported by organizational structures that provide stable employment and safe working conditions.

  3. Belonging Needs: Next, the emphasis shifts to social connections, love, and belonging. Management and teams are pivotal in fostering a workplace environment that nurtures relationships and a sense of community.

  4. Esteem Needs: Recognition, respect, and self-esteem come into play, with management playing a key role in empowering employees, acknowledging their contributions, and facilitating professional growth.

  5. Communication Needs: Introduced as a new layer, communication encompasses the essential exchange of information, freedom of expression, and constructive feedback. This need underscores the joint responsibility of management and leadership in promoting transparency and dialogue within the organization.

  6. Vision Needs: Vision, another addition, calls upon leadership to articulate a clear and inspiring future direction, aligning individual aspirations with the organization's overarching goals, and motivating employees towards shared achievements.

  7. Self-Realization Needs: At this level, the focus is on personal growth and achieving one's full potential, facilitated by leadership through opportunities for development and self-expression.

  8. Oneness: The pinnacle of the hierarchy, oneness, incorporates Maslow's concept of transcendence, including a commitment to sustainable development and nurturing the planet for future generations. This layer reflects a deep sense of unity with all aspects of society at large, recognizing our collective responsibility to foster an environment that promotes selfless aspirations.

This enriched hierarchy not only extends the scope of Maslow's original theory but also reaffirms the sequential nature of need fulfillment. It basically means that unfulfilled needs, for example belonging or esteem needs, will render all efforts of leadership towards higher needs such as communication, a shared vision or employees’ self-realization vain, because these needs will simply not exist. It therefore highlights the interconnectedness of needs, from the basic to the transcendent, emphasizing the comprehensive role of the organization, including HR, management, and leadership, in facilitating a workplace that supports growth. Now, addressing each level of the expanded Maslow's hierarchy within a workplace context requires a targeted approach:

1. Fulfilling Physiological Needs at Work

  • Competitive Salaries: Ensure compensation meets or exceeds industry standards.

  • Health Benefits: Offer comprehensive health insurance, including mental health support.

  • Healthy Workplace: Provide ergonomic furniture and a comfortable working environment.

  • Rest and Recreation: Encourage regular breaks and offer spaces for relaxation.

2. Fulfilling Security Needs at Work

  • Job Security: Create clear contracts and communicate job stability.

  • Safe Workplace: Implement strict safety protocols and emergency preparedness training.

  • Financial Planning Support: Offer workshops on financial well-being and retirement planning.

3. Fulfilling Belonging Needs at Work

  • Team-Building Activities: Organize regular team outings and bonding exercises.

  • Inclusive Culture: Foster a workplace culture that celebrates diversity and inclusivity.

  • Mentorship Programs: Pair new hires with more experienced employees.

  • Recognition Programs: Implement systems to recognize and celebrate team and individual achievements.

4. Fulfilling Esteem Needs at Work

  • Performance Bonuses: Reward outstanding work with bonuses or other incentives.

  • Public Acknowledgment: Recognize achievements in company-wide meetings or newsletters.

  • Leadership Opportunities: Offer roles in projects or committees to build leadership skills.

5. Fulfilling Communication Needs at Work

  • Regular Meetings: Schedule consistent team and one-on-one meetings for updates and feedback.

  • Feedback Mechanisms: Introduce suggestion boxes and regular surveys to gather employee input.

  • Conflict Resolution Training: Offer training to manage and mediate workplace conflicts.

  • Transparent Policies: Maintain clear communication regarding company policies and changes.

  • Social Platforms: Use internal social networks for sharing information and fostering connections.

6. Fulfilling Vision Needs at Work

  • Clear Company Goals: Articulate and share the organization's vision and goals with all employees.

  • Personal Development Plans: Work with employees to align their personal goals with company objectives.

  • Inspirational Speakers: Invite speakers to share stories that align with the company's vision.

  • Strategic Workshops: Conduct workshops to involve employees in strategic planning.

  • Career Pathing Sessions: Offer guidance on career progression within the company's framework.

7. Fulfilling Self-Realization Needs at Work

  • Skill Development: Provide opportunities for learning new skills relevant to employees' roles and interests.

  • Creative Projects: Allow time for employees to work on projects of personal or innovative interest.

  • Autonomy in Tasks: Encourage autonomy by letting employees set their work schedules and manage their projects.

8. Fulfilling Oneness (Transcendence) Needs at Work

  • Volunteer Opportunities: Organize company-wide volunteer days or charity events.

  • Sustainability Initiatives: Engage employees in sustainability efforts and green policies.

  • Cultural Awareness Events: Celebrate diverse cultures and practices within the workplace.

  • Spiritual Well-being Sessions: Offer spaces for meditation, yoga, or reflection.

  • Community Engagement Projects: Foster projects that connect employees with the local community and environment.

As organizations start to understand that the lessons from the Theory of Needs still need to be learned, and move from a people-centric approach to a needs-centric philosophy, they will realize that the way we measure satisfaction at work is flawed. Many evaluation programs within businesses still attempt to measure employee satisfaction without fully considering the hierarchical rule that is fundamental to Maslow's theory. This rule posits that the emergence of higher-level needs is dependent upon the fulfillment of the more basic ones. It means that when an employee struggles with issues related to belonging for example, they are not likely to perceive or prioritize the need for esteem or self-realization. This oversight is significant because it implies that an evaluation of job fulfillment and satisfaction that incorporate these higher measures for that individual will not work. And they will not accurately correlate with turnover intentions or the frequency of sick leave, as they include factors not pertinent to the individual's current state.

To address this, employee evaluations must methodically assess the fulfillment of needs in accordance with the hierarchy's order, pausing the process upon identifying an unmet need. Whenever this happens, the focus should shift towards a more detailed exploration of this specific deficit through targeted questionnaires, aiming to develop a tailored action plan to rectify the issue. Proceeding with the evaluation in the presence of unfulfilled lower-level needs can result in misleading outcomes because the measure related to the higher needs might suggest overall satisfaction, when actually only the lower needs count. 

As the Theory of Needs celebrates its 70th birthday, it is time for businesses to understand that their mission has expanded from fulfilling their customer’s needs to fulfilling their employee’s needs as well. And also that these needs have expanded from the classic hierarchy presented by Maslow in 1954, where self-realization was a black box easily overlooked, to an all-encompassing list of aspirations from survival to enlightenment. The implications for people, HR, management and leadership are wide, including a more accurate and meaningful assessment of employee satisfaction, directly addressing the root causes of dissatisfaction and disengagement at work, which seem to be one of the most obvious consequences of our misunderstanding of the new generation’s aspirations.

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