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Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Abraham Maslow was a psychologist who founded what later became known as the humanistic school of psychology. His principal subject of study was human motivation. He is most famous today for developing his ‘hierarchy of needs’, which explains people’s motivation and behaviour as the results of different sets of needs which drive them. Although Maslow’s ideas were not immediately accepted by his fellow psychologists, they were picked up and adapted by a number of prominent organisation theorists, notably Rensis Likert, Frederick Herzberg and Douglas McGregor, who used the hierarchy of needs to explain many aspects of organisation behaviour.

The hierarchy of needs concept also has important implications for marketing in explaining consumer behaviour. It remains a highly important concept in both fields (Rose, M. , 1978). Maslow was born in New York City on 1 April 1908, the son of Russian immigrants. He studied psychology at the University of Wisconsin, completing his BA in 1930 and his PhD in 1934. He taught psychology at Brooklyn College from 1937 to 1951, and then moved to Brandeis University where he set up and chaired the psychology department.

In 1961 he retired from Brandeis and moved to California, where he worked with several research centres. He died at Menlo Park, California on 8 June 1970. At the fourth level are the esteem needs. These encompass the desire for status, self-respect, adequacy, confidence, independence, reputation, prestige, recognition, attention, and appreciation. Basically, these needs are concerned with feeling good about oneself and having others recognize one’s worth as a person—the need for self-respect and the need for respect from others.

At the top of the hierarchy are the self-actualization needs. Maslow described these as the being needs because they are concerned with a person’s being all that he or she can be. These needs include personal growth, creativity, and realization of potential, autonomy, and intellectual vitality. These are the needs to fulfil one’s highest potentialities; however the individual might define those potentialities (Kardiner, 1941). The hierarchy of needs is a general framework for understanding human motivation that provides some important insights into a complex process.

It illustrates, for example, that there is an underlying logical pattern of motivation, a progression from one level to another as a person seeks to satisfy different needs. Granted, specific individuals do not always follow the pattern in a step-by-step, mechanical fashion, but the majority of people tend to follow the pattern most of the time (McGregor, 1960). Inherent in the concept of a hierarchy of human needs, and central to its application in an organizational setting, is the premise that a satisfied need no longer motivates behavior.

As one need becomes relatively well satisfied, another need becomes preeminent. For example, a person who is hungry will be motivated by the need for food, but once he or she has eaten, the offer of additional food will not move that person to action. According to Maslow, it is also important to note that a need does not have to be completely satisfied before the emergence of another need is felt. The need only has to be relatively well satisfied, as defined by the individual, before a person begins to seek satisfaction of other needs.

In the context of designing effective compensation programs, one should bear in mind that the lower-order needs—physiological and safety—are primarily satisfied by the direct and indirect components of compensation (i. e. , wages, salaries, and benefits). It is the psychological component of compensation that addresses social, esteem, and self-actualization needs (Fromm, 1941). Maslow’s intellectual influences were many, and included not only the psychology of Freud and Wilhelm Reich, but also the Gestalt theories of Kurt Goldstein and the pragmatic philosophy of William James and John Dewey.

His work on human motivation began in the 1940s; its first full exposition came in his book Motivation and Personality (1954). Rejecting both the psychoanalytical and behavioural schools of psychology, Maslow sought an explanation for human motivation in the inner core that he felt all humans possessed (Abrahamm 1943). This inner core is not inherited or genetic: indeed, Maslow strongly rejects biological determinism. Rather, it is composed of a complex assortment of feelings, emotions, desires, needs and wants.

Everyone has this core, but its composition can differ from person to person, and it manifests itself in each individual in different ways at different times. Our needs are not static, says Maslow; as we satisfy one need, others on the hierarchy then become more manifest and must be satisfied in turn. This work was considered highly unorthodox at the time of its publication, so much so that for a time Maslow was virtually ostracised in the American psychological community; it was not until much later that he was recognised as a true pioneer in psychology and his work given the attention it deserved.

The hierarchy of needs suggests that all human beings are motivated to undertake actions-including purchasing goods and services, and going to work-by their inner needs. These needs can be classified into various types. Not every type of need is of equal importance at any given time: Maslow says that some needs will always override others. Once these dominant needs are satisfied, however, other needs then demand attention and our behaviour changes as we seek to satisfy these.

For example, when we are hungry, that need tends to override all others and our behaviour is dominated by the need for food. Once we have eaten, however, the need for food is satisfied and then other needs come into play. This progression from one set of needs to another, results in a ‘hierarchy’ of needs. Where we are on this hierarchy at any given moment determines much of our motivation and actions, both as consumers and in the workplace. Maslow grouped our needs into five categories in ascending order: 1 physiological need;

2 safety needs; 3 belongingness and love needs; 4 esteem needs; 5 self-actualisation needs (McGregor, 1960). Those needs at the bottom of the hierarchy are the most prepotent; that is, they override other needs further up the hierarchy. They are also, in most ordinary life, the needs most easily met. Those at or near the top are the most complex and difficult to satisfy; indeed, many people never get as far as the fifth stage of the hierarchy. Maslow (1943) first presented the hierarchy of needs theory of human motivation in 1943.

It is by far the best known of the various motivation theories and, while lacking in scientific proof, offers some sound insights into understanding human behavior. According to Maslow, all human beings have five broad categories of needs they endeavor to satisfy: physiological, safety, social, esteem, and self-actualization. These needs are arranged in an ascending hierarchical fashion from lowest (physiological) to highest (self-actualization). The needs vary in their degree of prepotency or urgency. The lower-level needs are the most prepotent because their satisfaction is essential to a person’s survival.

As the lower-level needs become reasonably well satisfied, the higher-order needs assume increasing importance as causal factors in human behavior. Physiological needs are comprised of those things required to maintain and sustain life, such as food, air, water, sleep, shelter, and physical survival. These needs are basic because if they are not satisfied life cannot be sus-tained for very long. Moreover, some reasonable degree of satisfaction is also essential if the quality of a person’s life is to be adequate enough to allow the person to pursue the satisfaction of other needs.

Safety needs are concerned with protection from danger, risk, uncertainty, or threats to one’s person. Physical safety, situational stability, economic security, freedom from fear or anxiety, and the desire for order are examples of general safety needs. In the workplace safety needs would include job security, safe working conditions, and freedom from physical or mental harm (Herzberg, 1966). At the third level in the hierarchy are the social needs such as love, affection, meaningful relationships with other people, and occupying an important place in a group.

Off the job these needs are fulfilled through family, friends, neighbors, and belonging to social groups, such as bowling teams or service clubs. Social needs are reflective of the gregarious nature of human beings. Once the survival and protection needs of the first two levels in the hierarchy are reasonably well satisfied, social needs assume importance as a motivator of behavior. Physiological needs are requirements for the basic things that allow us to live, such as air, water and food.

We may lack many things in life, but if we lack food, we will probably choose to eat before doing anything else. Moreover, as Maslow notes, we will choose to make the search for food the most important thing in our lives, and, depending on how hungry we are, this desire for food will tend to override other ideas which we might otherwise think of as important, such as freedom, love, ethical behaviour towards our fellows and so on. In economic terms, a hungry man will buy food before he buys a car; a hungry woman will take a job for lower wages than one who has enough to eat (Herzberg, 1966).

However, once the need for food and other basic necessities for life to continue are filled, our outlook changes. As soon as physiological needs are met, says Maslow, then ‘at once other (and higher) needs emerge, and these, rather than physiological hungers, dominate the organism’ (Maslow, 1954, p. 38). The next set of needs constitute what Maslow terms safety needs. These can be described generally as the need for physical security for ourselves and those we are close to, which manifests itself in a desire for security, stability, law and order, and freedom from physical threat.

In civilised societies where the threat of physical violence is comparatively rare, we can still see safety needs manifested in areas such as desire for job stability and security, the need for protection against illness and old age through insurance and pensions, and so on. Safety needs also manifest themselves more generally in a common preference for familiar over unfamiliar things and an avoidance of situations where we are uncertain or do not know how to react (Herzberg, 1966).

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