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Giving it our Best – Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Some days we’re brilliant at work and almost nothing can get in our way. But other days, we can struggle, wondering what direction we’re going in and if our work is helping others around us. Here we talk about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and apply this famous psychologists’ views to optimize your workplace and life.

Maslow's Hierarchy of NeedsMaslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a theory established in 1943 and is still used worldwide today. The crux of the theory is that individuals’ basic needs must be met before they become motivated to achieve higher level needs. The hierarchy consists of five levels:

  1. Physiological: the needs of a person to survive,
    including food, water and shelter

  2. Safety: personal and financial security and health and wellbeing

  3. Love/belonging: the need for friendships, relationships and family

  4. Esteem: the need to feel confident and respected by others

  5. Self-actualisation: the desire to achieve everything you possibly can and become the most that you can be.

According to Maslow’s theory, you must be in good health, safe and secure with meaningful relationships and confidence before you are able to be the most that you can be. First we need to make sure we have a roof over our heads, enough money in our bank accounts to do what we like, and the necessary people around us for love and support.

If we have the three basic levels of human needs, we can then go about achieving our dreams. When it comes to self-esteem, there are two layers: the lower version which is respect from others, and the higher level, which is self-respect. Deprivation of these needs may lead to an inferiority complex, weakness, and helplessness.

Characteristics of Self-Actualizers

Now, if the first four levels are met, we are then free to achieve whatever we want in our lives. This level is particularly tricky to achieve because we need to first realize what our full potential is and know that we can do it.

Maslow studied 18 notable figures he believed to be self actualizers, including Abraham Lincoln and Albert Einstein, and found that they all shared the following 15 characteristics.

1.   They perceived reality efficiently and could tolerate uncertainty

2.   Accepted themselves and others for what they were

3.   Spontaneous in thought and action

4.   Problem-centred (not self-centred)

5.   Unusual sense of humor

6.   Able to look at life objectively

7.   Highly creative

8.   Resistant to enculturation, but not purposely unconventional

9.   Concerned for the welfare of humanity

10.   Capable of deep appreciation of basic life experiences

11.   Established deep satisfying interpersonal relationships with a few people

12.   Peak experiences

13.  Needed privacy

14.  Democratic attitudes

15.  Strong moral/ethical standards.

You might ask, how does one get to the stage of self-actualization. Well, according to Maslow, people who reach the highest level of the Maslow Pyramid tend to experience life like a child, with full absorption and concentration. They try new things instead of sticking to safe paths and listen to their own feelings in evaluating their experiences rather than adhering to the voice of tradition, authority or majority. People who reach the state of self-actualization avoid playing games and act genuinely, preparing to be seen as unpopular if their views are not accepted by mainstream society. You need to work hard and take responsibility for what you produce, and identify your defenses (maybe it is your ego or a fear of criticism) and have the courage to give them up.

How does this relate to you giving your best effort at work?

To do your job well, you need to make sure your life has the basic components. Chip Conley, the author of “Peak: How Great Companies Get their Mojo from Maslow”, writes that companies that demonstrate care for the welfare of their workers create an atmosphere of trust which, in turn, encourages loyalty and decreases stress. Additionally, people in management need to act fairly and consistently to recognise the efforts and achievements of their team.

When we know that our efforts are being noticed by management, we take more pride in our work. This also then means that our coworkers observe a link between responsibility and reward, and may work to set the bar higher for themselves and achieve more. The workplace is cyclic in nature: good energy and encouragement brings about even more positive energy, helping raise the motivation of the whole team. 

Take a look at Maslow’s Pyramid, and think what levels of the hierarchy you have achieved. Try and work towards self-actualization, doing work that you love and looking after the people around you.

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1: Maslow, A. H. (1943). A Theory of Human Motivation. Psychological Review, 50(4), 370-96.

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