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Maslow meets the 21st century

Any of you that have taken a basic organizational development, psychology, sociology or management course have learned about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. For those not familiar, Maslow established a psychological theory of human motivation based on what he believed to be their needs. His theory stated that humans need to have their basic needs met first (physiological – food, water, sleep) and only then could they focus and be motivated on having additional needs met such as Safety needs (employment, family, health), Love/belonging (friendship, family), Esteem (confidence, respect, achievement) and the highest of all the needs – Self Actualization (morality, problem solving, acceptance of facts), etc.

MaslowWhether you agree or disagree with this theory, the intent is to show, from a psychological perspective, there is a “hierarchy” of what humans need/require for sustainment. Similarly, in our jobs and organizations we have a hierarchy of needs as well. Anywhere you look/read there are studies and surveys that show that the reasons people leave their jobs is because of their manager, or lack of advancement, etc. However, based on my experience, the number one reason people change jobs, or at the very least, the 1st trigger that causes them to look for a job is because their basic need(s) aren’t being met, that is, they don’t feel they are paid enough. No amount of glorious manager/employee relationship or recognition program will overcome this. People have needs outside of work that can only be met if they are paid enough. For employers, paying your people properly is the ticket to the game. If you want the right players on the field to win the championship, you have to pay them properly. Don’t expect to major league players for minor league prices.

I find many employers, once they have identified that they have an attraction and retention issue, focus on everything else but making sure their people are paid properly. Now I know a lot of good HR folks will disagree with me on this one and that is ok, but based on my experience cash is king. People need to get paid what they feel they are worth and what the market is paying for their skillset. Don’t expect to keep your talent by underpaying them and hoping to make up for it for with a bunch of other ‘stuff.’  One of my favourite bloggers, Laurie Ruettimann, blogged about this topic yesterday and it inspired me to write this post.  You should check out what she has to say about compensation.

So back to Maslow and how I think his hierarchy of needs applies to the 21st century workplace. I think that for most employees, the hierarchy of needs goes something like this:

Level 5: Self Actualization – career development, advancement, work challenges, organizational philanthropy, etc.

Level 4: Esteem = rewards, recognition, respectful work relationships

Level 3: Love/belonging = work culture, work/life balance, positive relationship with manager,

Level 2: Safety = Stable company, permanent position, health benefits, harassment free workplace, safe work environment

Level 1: Physiological = Salary

As you can see, what I am proposing is that once you have the salary issue addressed, than your employees can and will focus on having their next level of needs met such as wanting to work for a stable company that provides them with a safe and healthy work environment. The hierarchy goes from there all the way to the top where the highest level of need(s) that needs to be met is career progression/development, work autonomy, etc. The challenge for employers and for us as HR Pros is making sure you (we) have met the needs in the proper order and aren’t addressing retention challenges at the wrong level. In other words, don’t rollout that new recognition program for your staff if you have work/life balance issues or heavy handed supervisors that are miserable to work for – you will fail.

What about you? What do you think of the hierarchy? Is wage and salary at the bottom of the pyramid? As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Image courtesy of factoryjoe/ Wikipedia.org

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