The hierarchy of employee needs is the key to effective motivation

Service Business

Content theories try to explain how intrapsychic factors influence people's behavior and motivation to work. Psychologists exploring the interior of a person most often want to know what is his hierarchy of needs. Desires and aspirations become the driving force of action and translate into the achieved efficiency. The most famous concepts showing internal motivational factors are Abraham Maslow's theory of needs and Clayton Alderfer's theory of ERG motivation. How can the achievements of these two concepts be used by an entrepreneur to create an incentive system?

The hierarchy of needs according to Maslow

Maslow distinguished five types of needs which he ordered hierarchically. Looking from the bottom of the pyramid, people feel needs: physiological, security, affiliation, recognition and self-fulfillment. The psychologist believed that the lack of satisfaction of the lower government's aspirations (e.g. feeling hungry, thirsty, anxious and fearful for one's own life) made it impossible to move to a higher level of the hierarchy of needs. Maslow was also convinced that only one endeavor can be pursued at a time, and that desires are achieved in a hierarchical order.

Example 1.

According to Maslow's theory, a hungry worker will not feel, for example, the need for self-improvement. Motivating an employee with the possibility of participating in a prestigious training course will not be effective until the employed person eats a lunch.

Maslow's concept has been criticized many times. People are able to feel different desires if they are hungry, thirsty or fear for their own lives. It is also possible for the satisfaction of a higher order need to automatically allow a subordinate endeavor to be realized. For example, fearful individuals often join specific social groups to fulfill their need to belong, while at the same time feeling safer among people who share their interests and passions.

Alderfer's hierarchy of needs

The ERG theory is an extension of the assumptions of Maslow's concept. Alderfer identified three levels of needs: existential (physiological and security), affiliation, and development. The researcher believed that an individual can be simultaneously motivated by various desires, but their implementation must follow an established hierarchy. Failure to satisfy the lower-order needs causes tension and frustration - regression appears, i.e. descending to a lower level and fulfilling lower-order needs more intensively.

Example 2.

Kowalski worked for two months on a project that was to bring him the desired promotion (need for development). Unfortunately, his colleague became the leader of the team. There was frustration in Kowalski's work, triggering the desire to achieve recognition - in conversations with his colleagues, he talked about how his skills and competences contributed to the success of the entire team. In this way, Kowalski wanted to compensate for his failure.

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What is the knowledge of the hierarchy of needs?

Both theories do not fully explain why people are motivated by particular intrapsychic factors. Moving between different levels of the needs hierarchy can also be confusing. Employers know very well that their employees can concentrate on a difficult task, even when they are already hungry, thirsty and exhausted. While lower-order needs have not been met, those employed are motivated to put more effort into recognition, self-fulfillment and professional fulfillment.

Knowing the hierarchy of needs allows you to realize that:

  • employees in the first place seek to satisfy their desires, which enable them to take care of their own health, life, safety or financial stability - in this case, employees' motivation can be stimulated by financial incentives, healthcare packages, MultiSport cards,
  • fulfilling existential needs contributes to the emergence of ambitious desires - the desire to improve, advance, recognize, and realize self-realization. An employee who experiences higher-order aspirations can be motivated by means of prestigious training, increasing his freedom of action, extending decision-making autonomy and the scope of his duties.

The hierarchy of each person's needs is different and this must be borne in mind. Extroverted workers want to be members of a community because they don't like to feel rejected. On the other hand, introverts may have highly developed needs for self-realization and belonging to a team and entering into interpersonal relationships will not be within the scope of their interests.



By conducting an honest conversation with an employee, you can find out what his individual hierarchy of needs is. Ask what the employed person cares about the most. Also observe how your employee behaves and try to find out the motives of his actions.