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Abraham Maslow a US psychologist, developed the well known 'Hierarchy of needs' motivation theory. Under this theory Maslow suggests that everybody has a series of needs and these needs can be organised into a hierarchy of priority. Maslow also stated that if you want to motivate an individual you will need to know which of their needs have been satisfied. Once you have this information, you can decide which need has to be satisfied in order to motivate your subject.

Hierarchical Levels

There are five hierarchical levels; Physiological needs, safety needs, social needs, esteem needs and self actualisation needs.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs Diagram

Physiological needs: This category holds basic survival needs such as food, clothes, shelter and sexual satisfaction.

Safety needs: This category encompasses the need to feel safe within your environment. As this includes emotional as well as physical safety, the need to be free from anxiety is part of this group of needs.

Social Needs: This need category is about companionship, it includes the need for love, friendship and belonging.

Esteem needs: This higher level need focuses on things that make a person feel better about themselves, the need for self respect, status and recognition from others.

Self actualisation: This category is about excelling in your life, personal achievement and reaching your potential.

Why Are They Called Hierarchical Levels?

Maslow asserts that needs at the bottom of the hierarchy must be met first; a person is unable to focus on the higher levels needs until the bottom level needs have been satisfied. For example until an individual's physiological needs have been met, they will be unable to move onto safety needs, once safety needs have been met the individual can move onto social needs and so on. Under this theory Maslow states that as people continuously strive for personal achievement, the need for self actualisation is ongoing and will never be satisfied.



Application of Maslow's theory within the workplace

The table below provides examples of how Maslow's "Hierarchy of Needs" theory can be applied in the work place.

Maslow's level
Examples of how the need can be met in the workplace?
A salary amount which enables the individual to have food shelter, clothing etc.
Safe working conditions and clear work procedures to reduce stress and anxiety.
Positive work relationships, team work and work social events to encourage team building.
Appraisals, 1 to 1s and other achievement recognition programmes. The opportunity to achieve and secure job promotions.
Self actualisation
Allocating challenging and stimulating responsibilities to employees. Employee development plans to help employees reach their potential in the workplace.


Although Maslow's theory is a popular theory it should applied with caution, especially as there is little statistical evidence to support it. Upon application it may be difficult to assess which of the needs (in the hierarchy), have been met for a particular individual. Each person may require different things to satisfy their needs, for example one individual's view of what is adequate shelter may differ from another person's view. There is also debate over the order in which the higher level needs have been placed in the hierarchy. A person's life experience may alter their hierarchy of needs. Some people may require esteem needs satisfaction before social needs satisfaction. Furthermore not everybody displays a need for self actualisation and progression.




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