As an employer or a manager it is energizing when you have a team or individual working for you who just gets it, they always complete what is asked of them and more with nary a complaint. What motivates these individuals? What enables them to perform at such a level? Can an organization provide an environment that enables this type of performance? A concept I learned recently at a trueU class on motivation really opened my eyes to a new paradigm on employee retention and motivation. The concept is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

Any person that has taken Psychology 101 has heard of Maslow. The real eye opener was its application to the workplace. A brief reminder on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs says people have two type of needs – deficiency needs (physiological and safety) and growth needs (belonging, self-esteem and self-actualisation). The goal is to advance from the bottom to the top of the pyramid. To advance to the next level, a person must have satisfied the preceding lower level. When you apply Maslow to a work environment, a motivated employee will say the following at each level of the pyramid:

The lesson I have taken from this concept is when an employee, or even myself, feel unmotivated about work, is to use Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs as a framework to open conversations about needs and motivations. If a leader can understand where a team member is in the hierarchy, then he or she may be able to address the deficient needs and improve team member motivation.

One additional fact when using Maslow’s Hierarchy in the workplace is you can be working at a higher level, but if an underlying level has shifted, the result is a change in employee motivation. For example, you can be working at the esteem level, you feel your work adds value and you are recognized. However, external forces result in a large contract not being renewed at your company. The motivation to perform at the esteem level has diminished. This changes your safety needs. The energy spent producing high quality work is now spent worrying about your company’s future and maybe your job.

I do realize that Maslow’s Hierarchy will not fit all situations nor will I always be able to make adjustments that can enable needs to be fulfilled. However, I feel that as a project manager/leader, the fact that time is taken to discuss where needs are and are not being met goes a long way in ensuring team members know you do care and want the best for them. And, that in itself can be a motivating factor in many work environments.