Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs


Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is one the most prominent management theories of contemporary times. American psychologist Abraham Maslow presented a comprehensive framework for understanding human motivation and behavior. Maslow observed and identified human needs and organized those needs into a hierarchical structure. 

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs shapes our understanding of individual and collective aspirations, leading to and fostering personal growth, engagement, and fulfillment. This comprehensive framework provides a roadmap for understanding the fundamental drivers of human motivation and satisfaction.

Premise of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

Abraham Maslow’s introduction of this theory of need brought about a shift in understanding motivation from being considered as a result of external stimuli and reinforcement. The scholars like Ivan Pavlov and B.F. Skinner suggested that behavior of individuals was a result of rewards and punishments.

Abraham Maslow argued that individuals fulfill their needs in a sequential manner, becoming motivated and exhibiting specific behaviors when their needs at each level are met. As individuals fulfill lower-level needs, they become motivated to fulfill the next higher-level needs.

Maslow also suggested that two individuals at the same organizational context may be at different hierarchies of needs. They may have their specific needs and they get motivated in the direction of fulfilling those needs.  Therefore, it is essential for supervisors and employers to assess and understand such differences in hierarchy of needs to best utilize the individuals. Also, Maslow emphasized that it is important to address and to understand such needs hierarchy to promote individual well-being  and maintain effective leadership and management practices.

Maslow proposed five distinct levels of needs. The hierarchical order arranges all the levels, forming a pyramid. The five distinct levels are:

  1. Physiological Needs
  2. Safety Needs
  3. Belongingness and Love Needs
  4. Esteem Needs
  5. Self-Actualization Needs

Individuals first fulfill their physiological needs and then progress to higher-level needs as motivation drives them.

Limitations and Criticism of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

There are multiple limitations and criticisms to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Some of such criticism and limitations are:

Overlooking the Communal Aspect

Hierarchy of Needs theory focuses primarily on human needs. All the characterization of different levels solely reflects the parameter for individual motivations. To this, this theory neglects the importance and need of collective and social motivations. It failed to include and emphasize the importance of culture, society and environment on human behavior. 

Ignorance of External Factors

Overemphasizing the individual and internal factors has been the limitations of this theory.  This theory is so into individualistic need and behavior that it ignores the external factors that can shape the behavior. There are factors like socio-economic conditions, cultural barriers, government rules and regulations, systematic inequalities etc. which impacts the behavior of an individual. This theory tends to ignore the importance of such external factors.

Lack of Flexibility

Maslow has categorized this theory into five distinct levels which categorizes different needs. One cannot explain the behavior outside these categories. This is one of the limitations of this theory. Also the progression of needs, as suggested by maslow, may not be suitable for all the individuals. This theory is rigid when it comes to individual reality and generalizes this theory. This theory lacks flexibility and follows a fixed hierarchy. 

Lack of Empirical Evidence

Maslow’s theory is based on observations, case studies and interviews. There is no empirical evidence to back this claim. Maslow didn’t conduct any rigorous scientific research. Many believe that lack of empirical evidence makes this theory merely an observational remark and make the arguments by this theory  weak and less credible.

Inadequate to explain the Complex Motivation

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs focus on motivational factors such as physiological and self actualization. There are other factors which address the motivational needs which are not covered by this theory. Factors like personal growth, creativity, self-transcendence etc. may also reflect on human behavior and impact human motivation. 

No attention to Negative Motivation

Maslow presents motivational factors that are positive. But there are many other factors that resists the motivation or negative motivation. Maslow’s theory of motivation completely ignores the role of negative motivation and how it impacts behavior. There are factors like fear, anxiety, hopelessness and avoidance that are impacting individuals to behave in a certain way. 

Despite all the criticism and limitations, theory of hierarchy of needs is still one the most influential theories in management studies. This theory has helped businesses, corporates and individuals in understanding the motivation in a better way.

Levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

As we know, Maslow suggested five different levels which are arranged in hierarchical order. Different needs are there at different levels and individual fulfills the need at each level before moving onto the next level.

Physiological Needs

Physiological needs are the foundational level of needs and form the base of Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs. Such needs are also referred to as “Biological Needs”. Physiological or Biological needs are fundamental requirements for human survival and functioning. First and foremost, humans are motivated to fulfill their physiological needs. Physiological needs include air, water, food, shelter, sleep and other bodily necessities. Other needs do not motivate humans without achieving such basic needs. Physiological needs are survival needs.

For instance, when we get our first ever job, we only consider the fact that the job will be sufficient to fulfill our basic requirements like food, shelter and sound sleep.

List of Physiological Needs: Air, Water, Food, Sleep, Clothing, Shelter, Sex, Health
Safety Needs

Once individuals achieve their physiological needs, they are motivated to fulfill their safety needs. As the name suggests, safety needs are the needs for security, stability and protection. It incorporates all the safety needs like physical safety, financial safety, career safety, health safety etc.

For instance, when we know that the job we are doing is sufficient for our basic needs.

The motivation to work and perform arises from our desire for security. We look for jobs that are secure and stable, we look for flats and housing in safer localities and move to places with better health and other facilities.

List of Safety Needs:  Personal security, Financial security, Health and well-being, Safety from physical harm, Safety from danger or threat, Job Security, Safety from violence or abuse, Safety from natural disaster, Access to healthcare services, Secure living environment etc.
Love and Belongingness needs

Love and belongingness needs includes networking, meaningful relationships, social bonding, social acceptance, cultural acceptance and association with a group or community. Once an individual removes their fear of safety, they look for communal acceptance and validation.

For instance, after achieving a desired level of stability, individuals look for social association either for professional growth or for love and affection. Marriage, partners, close friendships, traveling, exploring, family commitments, social community commitments, organizational association etc. become the aspiration of an individual.

List of Love and Belongingness Needs: Friendship, Intimacy, Family, Sense of connection, Affection, Love relationships, Belongingness in a social group, Supportive relationships, Inclusion in a community, Acceptance and belongingness etc.
Esteem Needs

Esteem needs include recognition, status, respect, admiration, achievement etc. After getting love and belongingness needs, individuals get motivated for esteem needs i.e. worth in life, behavior what is expected and recognition for efforts. At this level, individuals seek acknowledgement for all hardship and measure success with achievements and recognitions. At this level, all the hard work and motivation shown by an individual is for self respect, self worth and certain position in the society.

List of Self Esteem Needs: Self-confidence, Self-respect, Self-worth, Achievement, Competence, Recognition, Respect from others, Appreciation, Status, Reputation etc.
Self Actualization Needs

This the highest level in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. This represents the full potential and ideal situation of human motivation. This is the self and deep reflection situation. Self actualization involves intrinsic motivation, extreme creativity and a deep sense of purpose. At this stage, people are motivated towards meaningful and purposeful work, work for their passion and personal development and act for the welfare of the society. This is the ideal position for individuals to attain.

For instance, an employee who is deeply involved and has a strong interest in animal awareness. Handing a CSR project to that employee and asking him to lead that project all in all. The employee may experience a sense of fulfillment, personal achievement and self experience. In such a situation, the employee may tap his/her creativity. 

List of Self-Actualization Needs: Self-Fulfillment, Personal growth, Realizing one’s potential, Pursuit of passions, Meaning and purpose, Autonomy and Self-direction, Creativity and Innovation, Continuous self-improvement etc.

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