The Hierarchy of Needs in the Workplace

Prioritizing needs is an important function of management.
Prioritizing needs is an important function of management. (Image: Comstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images)

Psychologist Abraham Maslow developed his theory of the hierarchy of needs in the mid-20th century. Since then, it has become a very influential explanatory theme within psychological circles. Maslow believed that basic needs needed to be met before more ambitious needs could be addressed. For example, an individual needs enough to eat before he can think about spiritual pursuits. This theory can be as easily applied to the workplace as to individual psyches.


The primary level in Maslow's hierarchy is biological. In a business sense, this can be interpreted as a need for a physical plant, office space and equipment to get work done. The best business idea won't go anywhere if it isn't supplied with the resources that are required to make it into a reality. The workplace can be seen as the "body" of the business.


At an individual level, safety is interpreted as the presence of predictability and protection from harm or interference. The same needs are present in business. Once the physical plant is established, the business needs to be assured that it isn't going to be robbed, burned down or otherwise made dysfunctional. Safety for business also requires a steady source of income to keep the business functioning. A business that is operating within a society that has an operational system of law and a healthy economy has its basic needs for safety met.


The idea of belonging in business is less personal and emotional than in the personal realm, but it is just as important. A business doesn't require physical contact or nurturing in the same way that a human does, but it does need membership within a business community and good relations with its suppliers and customers. This kind of economic belonging is critical for a business to thrive because a business in isolation has nobody else with whom to do business. Developing healthy, mutually beneficial and sustainable business connections is a critical step in the manifestation of a successful business.


In business, Maslow's concept of esteem can be interpreted as business reputation, customer loyalty and word-of-mouth advertising. When a business creates a good product at a reasonable price, treats its customers well and generally behaves as a responsible corporate citizen, it will win the support, admiration and commerce of the local community.


Working its way through all of the previous and necessary stages, a business reaches the point where it is able to engage in the business version of "self-actualization." This may involve research and development of new and innovative products, or perhaps expansion to serve other geographic areas. Some businesses use their success to do philanthropic work and help needy people. Maslow's final stage is a condition where the successful individual or business can focus less in the self and more on giving back to the surrounding world.

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