Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs: Applying It in the Workplace

By Jennifer Herrity

Updated August 29, 2022 | Published December 12, 2019

Updated August 29, 2022

Published December 12, 2019

Jennifer Herrity is a career coach at Indeed who has worked with job seekers from various industries over the last 12 years. She creates resources to help people navigate career challenges with tools and techniques she has refined through practical experience.

A person holding a representation of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs includes five levels of human needs that allow an individual to feel fulfilled. It is often applied to the workplace as a means to determine how to more effectively motivate employees and to make sure their needs are met. Understanding this psychological concept can help you determine whether your needs are met in your workplace and how you can better meet the needs of your team.

In this article, we explain Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, how it applies in the workplace and how to implement it.

Key takeaways:

  • Fulfilling Maslow’s hierarchy of needs directly impacts job satisfaction.

  • Maslow's hierarchy is also known as Maslow’s theory of motivation.

  • It’s important to understand how these needs apply to you specifically, your job and choice of career.

What is Maslow’s hierarchy of needs?

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a motivational theory in psychology. This hierarchy—also referred to as Maslow’s theory of motivation—includes five levels of human needs: physiological, safety, love and belonging, esteem and self-actualization.

Within each level are specific needs that allow for an individual to feel fulfilled. The hierarchy is often depicted as a pyramid to represent the need to fulfill the lower levels before an individual can move up to the next level. Without fulfillment on the level below in the hierarchy, a person cannot progress because they will lack the motivation to do so.

Related: How To Develop a Positive Work Environment in 6 Steps

The 5 levels of Maslow’s needs

When applying Maslow’s hierarchy of needs in the workplace, you need to understand the needs and how they impact motivation. Each need builds on the last, allowing a person to feel more fulfilled, which in turn encourages motivation and creative thinking.

1. Physiological needs

The physiological needs in this hierarchy refer to the most basic human needs. Employees need access to vital services and opportunities while at work to feel their most basic needs are being met. You need access to a restroom, a place to get drinking water, breaks to eat meals and snacks, and a comfortable working environment. When applied to the workplace, one of your physiological needs is also a steady income to support yourself and pay for somewhere to live, food, utilities and other essential needs.

Related: 31 Words Describing Company Culture

2. Safety

Safety is another vital need that can impact your overall satisfaction with your workplace. It is natural to worry about your own safety and the safety of your loved ones. For example, one of your priorities might be to provide a safe living space for your family, which is why you work hard to provide for that need. At work, it’s also important to feel that your physical safety is valued and prioritized.

You should feel that your resources and personal property are safe and protected. Ensuring a safe workplace may include providing ergonomic office furniture that properly supports you and reduces the risk of injury, along with securing the building to prevent potentially dangerous people from entering.

Another aspect of safety in the workplace pertains to feeling emotionally safe and supported. If you’re worried about losing your job due to layoffs or budget cuts, it is more challenging to achieve motivation to move to the next level in the hierarchy and perform at your highest level. Unsteady futures also lead to decreased morale in the workplace.

Related: 10 Workplace Safety Tips Every Employee Should Know

3. Love and belonging

The love and belonging level of Maslow’s hierarchy is slightly different in the workplace than it is in other areas of your life. If you don’t feel a sense of belonging, you may not feel as engaged at work or as motivated to succeed.

It’s not always easy for individuals to establish and form relationships at work. Companies that host social activities and offer more opportunities for relationship-building outside the office tend to have higher rates of employee engagement than organizations that don’t focus on these aspects of a work-life balance. When you feel like you belong and fit in within your workplace and your team, it is easier to feel motivated to work hard and achieve results. 

Related: Tips To Demonstrate Work Ethic

4. Esteem

Esteem is the belief that you are contributing to a higher goal and that the contributions you make are recognized. In the workplace, it is important to feel that you’re growing, advancing and achieving results, and that those around you recognize those results. When you have confidence in yourself and your abilities, as well as receive positive feedback and encouragement, you are more likely to succeed.

An employee’s esteem ultimately impacts their overall engagement as well. Offering regular recognition and appreciation for the tasks employees are doing can positively impact esteem, even when an employee is struggling. If feedback only comes in the form of an annual review, employee esteem may suffer. 

Related: 12 Benefits of Self-Esteem (And 10 Tips To Improve Yours)

5. Self-actualization

The final level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is self-actualization, which translates to maximizing an individual’s potential at work. A person ultimately wants to feel they are doing the best they can in their position, which helps them feel motivated to continue on their career path and succeed. A self-actualized employee feels empowered and trusted, which encourages growth and engagement. 

One of the keys to making sure this need is met is giving employees opportunities that allow them to succeed. Supervisors should focus on their employees’ skills and abilities, helping them look for ways to advance their careers without pushing them into roles that will not be good fits. To feel self-actualized, you should feel challenged at work but not overwhelmed or overloaded. 

Related: How To Get Motivated at Work

Implementing Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

As you apply Maslow’s hierarchy of needs in your professional life, you may find areas that could improve. An employer can provide ways to fulfill many of these needs, but you also need to be aware of how your needs impact your overall success in certain roles. For example, if you struggle with rejection, a career in sales could make it more challenging to meet your needs.

Top of the hierarchy

To reach the top level of this motivational theory in the workplace, you must be self-actualized, which means you understand your skills, abilities and what you’re capable of handling. A healthy and engaged workforce is filled with individuals who have reached the top level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

The ability to identify your needs and make sure those needs are fulfilled positively can help you increase your chances of success. When you feel safe, supported, a sense of belonging and self-actualized, your attitude may also influence those around you in the workplace. 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.

Related: 14 Qualities of a Fulfilling Job (With Tips To Find One)

Motivation and job satisfaction

Employers with low engagement rates often have higher turnover rates, as well as issues with low morale and unhappy employees. By investing in the overall happiness of its employees, a business can increase satisfaction while boosting engagement and motivation, which ultimately impacts productivity.

It is important to assess whether you feel your needs are being met in your current position. Your needs are important and valuable, so keep them high on your list of priorities. You can also look for ways to make changes in your professional life and create a positive, engaging working atmosphere.

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