Thriving as an Employer (COVID Edition) via the Employee Hierarchy of Needs

Ed Baldwin Culture, Driving Productivity, Ed Baldwin, Employee Engagement, employee experience, Engagement and Satisfaction, Good HR, Trench HR 3 Comments

Everyone’s heard of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Well, almost everyone. On the outside chance you haven’t, it’s a theoretical model of human motivation that was published in 1943.

Not exactly cutting edge stuff. But powerful, and surprisingly applicable to today’s workforce and chaotic COVID era environment.

Summarily, it theorizes that people start out being motivated to achieve base level needs and progress up in the hierarchy as needs at the base are realized. Simple, profound, and timeless.

Let’s apply this post WWII motivational theory to the people you hire and employ today. In 2020? Yeah, that’s right. Bust a little history on those X, Y and Z generations.

If you’re curious whether the application of this theory works today then keep reading. And if you’re not, keep reading anyway. I’ll attempt to be entertaining. Let the history lesson begin.

Level 1, Physiological Needs – this level is about one word, survival. Survival in companies today is about not getting fired, furloughed, laid off or let go. How to help your employees achieve this level? Provide job security. Do everything in your power to run a profitable and growing business. And utilize layoffs as an absolute last resort.

Level 2, Security Needs – personal health and security. If you’ve been working in COVID era essential business like I have, this has consumed more of your time and attention in the past six months than anything else. How to help your employees achieve this level? Safeguard and protect them. Not just from potential life-threatening virus’, but also from everyday safety hazards. Offer wellness programs and comprehensive health and welfare plans they can actually afford.

Level 3, Love & Belonging – ok, love may be going a bit too far but achieving this level is about developing a sense of connection and community throughout your company. Your employee’s should feel like they are part of something important. How to help your employees achieve this level? Ensure employees get to know each other, personally not just professionally. Provide forums for social interaction. Clubs and activities that bring your employees together to realize and enjoy similar interests – together. Maybe not face to face, but mask to mask at least right now.

Level 4, Esteem – this is about respect, admiration and recognition. Make certain your employees are appreciated for their efforts. Paying them isn’t enough and yet too often it’s our go-to. Employees want and need to know how important they are to team success. How to help your employees achieve this level? Say thank you, and mean it. Offer tokens of appreciation to show you care, whether that’s a gold watch, a travel voucher or a gift card. Personalize the recognition to each employee to the degree you can because it’s always more special when it’s been crafted specifically for them. Tailor your appreciation to the individual and their desires and interests.

Level 5, Self Actualization – this is a toughie, the desire to become the most that one can be. Delivering on this motivation need means learning your employees goals and aspirations and then helping them get there. How to help your employees achieve this level? Listen, coach, mentor, offer professional development and promote employees when warranted. Easy enough right? And don’t use that excuse that some people don’t want to be promoted and grow because that’s managing by exception not the rule. Whether it’s development in place/role or climbing the ladder we all want to be challenged to be our very best self.

In 2020 we all need to be focused on the foundational level motivations of our people. Let’s face it, our people aren’t trying to be their best selves when jobs are being lost, businesses are failing, and our people’s health and welfare are being threatened in unprecedented ways!

Make certain that your company offers job security, a safe and healthy work environment, and communicate regularly how thankful you are for an employee’s contribution. Offer those things and guess what … you’re half way home!

Comments 3

  1. Ed, I like it. Definitely still applicable today. I also like Vroom’s Expectancy Theory and it would be interesting to see how it overlays with Maslow’s hierarchy. Vroom’s perspective is much more focused on external factors… Maslow clearly on the internal stuff, but I think they relate. Good stuff!

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