Maslow’s Need Hierarchy Theory

PSYCH-105 Industrial Psychology

Chapter 5: Motivation

Unit 1

Unit 2

Unit 3

Unit 4



These theories study needs, their effect on the employee and suggest ways to motivate the employee by satisfying those needs. But as each individual has a different value system, beliefs and character, it becomes a very complex process.

Content theories focus on the question of what arouses, sustains and regulates goal directed behaviour i.e., the particular things that motivate people. They offer ways to profile or analyse individuals to identify their needs.

Maslow Need Hierarchy Theory

Abraham Harold Maslow (1943)

Maslow developed a new concept of motivation and proposed a hierarchical order in the structure of human needs. The two assumptions in his theory are:

  1. People have many needs that are different in nature ranging from biological needs at the lowest level to psychological needs at the highest level for growth.
  2. These needs occur in an order of hierarchy so that the lower level needs are satisfied first and graduate to higher level needs in an order.

In the Maslowian paradigm five needs identified were: Psychological, safety/security, social, self-esteem and self-actualization. Maslow believed that only unsatisfied needs can influence behaviour satisfied needs do not act as motivators.

  1. Physiological needs: need for food, water, sex, sleep, oxygen. In organisational context salary, basic working conditions
  2. Safety and security needs: In organisational context medical and disability insurance, safe working conditions, pension, job salary increase
  3. Belongingness and love needs: need for friendship, affiliation, interaction, love. In organisational context compatible workgroup, peer acceptance, professional friendship, friendly supervision.
  4. Self esteem needs: need for confidence, achievement, independence, prestige, recognition, reputation, feeling of worth. In organisational context job title, merit pay, responsibility.
  5. Self actualization needs: need for maximum use of abilities, skills and potential.

To ensure safety and security in organization, company can provide schemes like pension plan, medical plan, group insurance, provident fund, gratuity etc. For social need schemes like 5 working days a week, LTA etc. so that the person can spend more time with family and friends. Self esteem can be satisfied by performance feedback, recognition, encouragement, promotions etc. and to focus on self actualization need company may provide employees a challenge and opportunity to reach their full career potential. 

Maslow also suggested that people can travel down as well as up the hierarchy. Loss of existing satisfaction of primary need can reactivate that level and increase its importance.

Mary Kay Inc. uses Maslow’s Hierarchy to motivate their employees. Consultants report that they are motivated by :-

  • Commission and incentive (Pay)
  • Being a part of a team (Belongingness and social need)
  • Recognition (Esteem)
  • Advantage to help others (Self actualization)

To sum up, the managers must be aware of individual differences in reward preferences. What will motivate one subordinate will not work with another individual. Different people want different things, and managers must be sensitive to these needs if they want to motivate their subordinates.

Fig.: Maslow's Need Hierarchy Theory

Implications of Need Hierarchy Theory

  1. A manager needs to carefully observe his subordinates’ behaviour to determine what their active needs are. Because these needs change over time, one cannot assume that a technique that once worked will continue to work for ever.
  2. The manager must be aware of individual difference in reward preferences. 
  3. He believed that if a member of an organization had problems on or outside the work place, he would bring these problems to work, which would have an adverse effect on his performance at work. So the best way to motivate the staff would be to identify their problems and to help them handle their problems.

Advantages / Merits / Pro’s

  1. Maslow educated the managers to identify employee needs and answered the question as to why different people are motivated by different factors.
  2. The theory is able to suggest how managers can lead their employees or subordinates to become self-actualized.

Disadvantages / Limitations / Demerits / Con’s

  1. Maslow’s theory is over simplified and is based on human needs only. There is lack of direct cause and effect relationship between need and behaviour.
  2. The theory has to refer to other motivating factors like expectations, experience and perception.
  3. Needs of all employees are not uniform. Many are satisfied only with physiological needs and security of employment.
  4. The pattern of hierarchy of needs as suggested by Maslow may not be applicable uniformly to all categories of employees.
  5. Maslow’s assumption of ‘need hierarchy’ does not hold good in the present age as each person has plenty of needs to be satisfied, which may not necessarily follow Maslow’s need hierarchy.
  6. Maslow’s theory is widely accepted but there is little empirical evidence to support it. It is largely tentative and untested. His writings are more philosophical than scientific.
  7. People from different culture and countries have different priorities of their needs and so it cannot be applied everywhere as it is.

Author – Dr. Niyati Garg

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