Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Maslow's Theory of Motivation - Hierarchy of Needs

One of my blogger friends is weary of mine talking of Stick and Carrot technique to motivate or “coerce” (as he sees it) the workers to add productively and substantially towards the organization. Well the Stick and Carrot is one of the means to achieve the desired output from the workers – but it is generally seen as a negative rather than a positive methodology to be applied to the workers. But this is just one of the theories as there are many more that have been propagated, applied, accepted or rejected  and viewed as motivating or de-motivating means. In fact no single theory can answer all the questions or serve as a role model universally or generally. 

Today we will focus on Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs” theory as a means of motivation.” In his theory, Abraham H Maslow attempts to formulate a needs based framework to motivate “humans” rather than some earliest theorists whose theories were based upon the animal behaviour or instincts. Maslow asserts that human beings can be motivated by their unsatisfied needs, which he says is a healthy phenomenon that can lead us to self-actualization. A leader therefore has to understand the needs for individual workers. The Maslow’s model indicates that fundamental, lower-order needs like safety and physiological requirements have to be satisfied in order to pursue higher-level motivators along the lines of self-fulfilment.
The Maslow’s model has been constructed into five tiers as the figure below indicates.

Let us analyse the Maslow’s triangle from the lowest level:
  • Physiological Needs: These needs are the very basic need of any human being. According to Maslow's theory, unless a man has his very basic needs attended to our fulfilled, he will remain unproductive, and uncertain of his involvement in any organization’s productivity. So long he is embattled in fulfilling his basic needs, he is not looking any ladder upward. So the minimum motivation must address his physiological needs.
  • Safety and Security Needs: As he feels comfortable as regard to his very basic needs, he tends to look beyond himself and brings into his family’s food and medical need, security and safety of his employment and saving something for the rainy days. These will ensure his security from physical and emotional harm.
  • Love and Belonging Needs: As a person moves to the fulfilment of his send tier of needs, for him his status in the society assumes added importance. He would now be held in some status to which he interacts and want to belong.
  • Esteem Needs: Everyone wants a Philip on his shoulder for his hard work and productivity and kept in a high esteem than the rest for his dedication and sincerity. Esteem needs are thus about being given recognition for a job well done. They reflect the fact that many people seek the esteem and respect of others. A verbal appreciation in front of other, a pay raise or best a promotion at work might achieve this.
  • The Need for Self Actualization: This is the final culmination of a persons long and laborious way up at the top. This is the stage when one wants to puts in everything that he has learnt so far and do something for which he be remembered. The reward may not be from people around him but it would be a satisfaction from within that comforts him. This is often measured by the extent of success and challenge at work or something that one has been wanting to do but wasn’t in apposition to accomplish. Now sitting at the top, he can fulfil his dreams, aspirations and desires for his very own satisfaction. According to Maslow, only a small percentage of the population reaches the level of self- actualization.

Maslow's model is one of the most talked of motivational model and has great potential appeal in the business world. If applied intelligently, the management can find out the satisfaction of needs of their employees, and having reached a particular level, suitable rewards can benefit both the workers and the organization. This also helps in growth of the workers both professionally and personally. The satisfaction of needs make them work harder to attain the next level for themselves, their families, friends, society and of course the organization they work for. Maslow’s self actualization has always been subjected to criticism. Some are of the opinion that even when some people may have been deprived of lower level needs, they would still strive for self actualization. Maslow is been criticised for his vagueness for he was not very scientific in his investigations. He liked lists (lists of characteristics of self-actualizers, lists of objectives for future humanistic psychologists, even lists of possible research projects). But he never came up with actual relationship of his lists with his research.  

Some people have objections to this approach. They are of the opinion that in today’s world, man’s needs are not one or restricted to a particular level. The needs are dynamic and at one time many other needs also need to be satisfied rather than restricting to one level. Likewise, it is difficult to ascertain that who has reached to which level. There may be individuals who may settle for lower salaries but for higher future benefits. But this is just a model and as said before, no model of motivation can satisfy all problems or could answer all questions. It is up to the management to intelligently apply one or more models simultaneously tailoring these to their specific requirement and environment. 

Relevant Reading: Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs: A Critical Analysis


Maslow was wrong. See the reasons and an alternative model of hierarchy of needs, see Nain, Bhavya, Nain’s Hierarchy of Needs: An Alternative to Maslow’s & ERG’s Hierarchy of Needs (June 14, 2013). Available at SSRN:

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