Implementing the Maslow Motivation Theory (With Tips and FAQs)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 27 April 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Psychological theories, such as Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of needs, can offer professionals new ways of thinking about their career development. Knowing how to implement the principles of Maslow's motivation theory can help both individuals and supervisors in the workplace improve professional growth, retention rates and employee satisfaction. Understanding this hierarchy may assist you in analysing how you can better meet the needs of yourself or your team. In this article, we explain Maslow's hierarchy of needs, explore the five levels of Maslow's motivation theory and offer advice on how it can apply in the workplace.

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What is the Maslow motivation theory?

The Maslow motivation theory is a theory in psychology about human needs, behaviours and motivation. Also called Maslow's hierarchy of needs, this theory posits that humans have five basic categories of needs: physiological, safety, social, self-esteem and self-actualisation. Many visualise Maslow's hierarchy of needs as a pyramid, with physiological needs as the base and self-actualisation at the top.

According to Maslow's theory, humans fulfil their needs in a hierarchical order. This means that they pursue their basic needs, like food and sleep, before striving to complete the needs higher on the pyramid, such as self-esteem. To achieve the highest level of self-actualisation, a human must first have their needs from the lower levels of the pyramid met.

Levels within Maslow's hierarchy of needs

Following are the five levels within Maslow's hierarchy of needs in ascending order:

1. Physiological needs

The physiological needs refer to the most basic human needs. These needs include shelter, water, food, health and sleep. A person's physiological needs relate to their innate desire to survive.

2. Safety needs

A person's safety needs relate to their desire to feel secure. Safety needs encompass feeling protected physically, such as from natural disasters or threats of violence. Humans also typically need economic security to ensure they can feel financially safe and stable. They might receive this economic security from a steady income and job security, government monetary support or personal savings. Fulfilling both types of safety needs can help people feel more emotionally protected and healthy.

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3. Love and belonging needs

Love and belonging is the third level within Maslow's hierarchy of needs. A person's love and belonging needs connect to their instinctual desire to interact with and form meaningful relationships with others. These interactions and interpersonal connections can provide humans with a crucial sense of belonging.

4. Esteem needs

Esteem needs relate to humans' longing to earn respect from both others and themselves. To feel respected by others, a person needs recognition, prestige or status. Feelings of respect for one's self can arise from dignity, independence, competence and self-confidence.

5. Self-actualisation needs

The last level of Maslow's hierarchy of needs is self-actualisation. This refers to the human need to maximise your unique and individual potential. People may try to achieve self-actualisation through a range of strategies, such as developing skills, pursuing goals, finding happiness or actively using their abilities or talents.

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Tips for implementing Maslow's motivation theory in the workplace

While Maslow's motivation theory can apply to personal needs, they're also highly relevant in the workplace. Both individual professionals and team leaders or supervisors can benefit from learning about the ways in which Maslow's hierarchy of needs may affect job performance. Here's some advice on applying Maslow's theory in the workplace and achieving positive results:

Fulfil lower-level needs first

Employees require access to vital services and opportunities while at work to feel that their most basic physiological needs are being met. This includes access to physical locations, like a restroom and a place to get water, along with time to fulfil their basic needs, which can be achieved through meal breaks. Strive to make time during your workday to take breaks for food or to briefly interact with colleagues. If you're in a leadership role, encourage your supervisees to step away from their job responsibilities now and then.

The workplace can also affect an individual's safety needs. It's important for employees to feel that a company leader values and prioritises their physical safety. Providing a safe workplace may involve purchasing ergonomic office furniture, adhering to health and safety regulations and securing the building to prevent unwanted visitors. Safety needs in Maslow's theory also relate to emotional and economic safety. A supervisor or employer can help their team members meet these needs through strategies like equitable human resources policies, fair wages and benefits packages.

Be honest about company operations

If you're a team leader or company manager, be honest whenever possible about developments or processes at your organisation. Telling your team members or employees about what's happening within your company not only allows them to stay informed, but can increase their sense that they belong within their organisation. This may help satisfy their third level of Maslow's needs that relate to love and belonging.

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Foster a positive company culture

Both employees and supervisors can strive to create and take part in a positive and collaborative company culture. When you feel you belong within your workplace and your team, Maslow's theory suggests that it can become easier to feel motivated to work hard and achieve results. Tactics for nurturing a positive company culture may include:

  • devising team-building activities that encourage collaboration and creative thinking

  • offering a range of communication tools, such as instant messaging systems, video chats and emails

  • checking in regularly with team members or employees to see if they have any concerns or questions

  • setting up fun events outside of work hours, such as happy hours, movie nights or game sessions

  • volunteering as a team or company for a good cause

  • running an internal book club where you read books related to issues that affect your company or professional development

Engagement and motivation are often team-based attitudes, so a team of individuals who feel their needs are being met can create a more positive, engaging culture within the workplace. By investing in the overall happiness of its employees, company managers and team leaders may increase employee satisfaction while boosting engagement and motivation, which ultimately can affect productivity.

Pursue or create development opportunities

Go after or design professional development opportunities at your company. Pursuing these types of opportunities can help you develop new skills, advance your career and exercise your abilities. These activities may positively contribute to feelings of self-actualisation, or the highest level within Maslow's hierarchy of needs.

If you're in a supervisory role, think about ways to expand or optimise development opportunities for your team members or employees. This may involve creating opportunities that apply to employees in multiple fields, providing financial support for team members to attend industry conferences or delegating more advanced tasks to employees that can help them build new skills. Most people ultimately want to know they're doing the best they can in their position, which can help them feel motivated to continue on their career path and succeed. A self-actualised employee feels empowered and trusted, which may encourage growth and engagement.

Find meaning in your job

Find ways to make your job meaningful and rewarding. Professionals who understand the greater meaning of their work may feel higher levels of both self-esteem and self-actualisation, or the top two levels of Maslow's theory. You might find meaning in your work by learning to enjoy the process of performing your job responsibilities. It may also help to consider the impact of your job, such as how your personal duties contribute to the well-being or success of your clients, colleagues, company or even a global issue like sustainability or equality.

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Recognise employees

If you're a company leader, make sure to provide consistent feedback and recognition to your supervisees. This recognition can be for their extraordinary workplace achievements or for consistently delivering quality work. Offering regular recognition and appreciation for the tasks employees are doing can positively impact esteem, even when an employee may be struggling. You may also want to devise ways for employees to recognise one another, such as through voting on an employee of the month award or creating a recognition board where any employee can recognise one of their colleagues.

FAQs about Maslow's motivation theory

Following are answers to frequently asked questions about Maslow's hierarchy of needs:

Why is self-actualisation difficult?

Although self-actualisation may sometimes be challenging to achieve, it remains a highly valuable pursuit. Self-actualisation can be difficult to reach because requires the fulfilment of the four other levels of needs first, but when humans can achieve it, they tend to feel happier with themselves and others. Self-actualisation may also help people perceive and respond to unexpected situations more efficiently.

What's the difference between growth needs and deficiency needs?

In Maslow's theory, the first four levels of needs are sometimes called deficiency needs, because they arise from a desire to improve something that a person lacks. By contrast, self-actualisation is a growth need, as it stems from a desire to become a person who's reached their fullest potential. As a person meets their deficiency needs, their motivation to pursue their growth needs increases.

How relevant is Maslow's theory today?

Maslow's theory remains highly relevant. Professionals who understand Maslow's theory can better evaluate whether their needs or the needs of their team are being met. They can then figure out ways to optimise unmet needs, such as by fostering a more positive work environment.

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