Contemporary Relevance of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs
Maslow's hierarchy of needs has represented a theoretical touchstone within the field of organizational management for decades. However, research since this theory was first authored in 1943 has found this model increasingly insufficient in light of what has been learned about human behavior. To better define the strengths and weaknesses of Maslow's hierarchy of needs, this report examines recent research into the ability of this model to predict employee behavior. Based on this analysis, Maslow's model of human motivation needs to be updated to reflect the ability of workers to seek fulfillment of needs largely independent of where they are ordered within the hierarchy. In addition, the influential role of the work and community environment on which needs are most attended to, should also be emphasized more. These conclusions represent more an elaboration of Maslow's hierarchy, rather than repudiation, and therefore this model of human motivation remains relevant today.
Contemporary Relevance of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs
Maslow's hierarchy of needs represents a theoretical model that orders individual needs according to relative importance (reviewed by Kenrick, Griskevicius, Neuberg, and Schaller, 2010). If the width of a need represented its relative importance, then a hierarchy of needs would from a pyramid (Appendix, Fig. 1). At the base of this pyramid, according to Maslow, are the immediate physiological needs, such as food, water, and air to breathe. Immediately above is safety, such as protection from the weather and predators. At the middle level of the pyramid is love, in the form of affection and social connections. This is followed by the need for esteem, or respect. Topping off the pyramid is the need for self-actualization, which is the process of seeking to maximize an individual's creative potential.
Maslow's hierarchy of needs was a reaction to the behaviorist theories that dominated psychological theories of human behavior in the middle of the 20th century (reviewed by Kenrick, Griskevicius, Neuberg, and Schaller, 2010). According to behaviorism, human behavior was motivated primarily by primitive instincts like hunger and thirst, but Maslow argued instead that human motivation was the product of a hierarchy of needs that had the capacity to rise above our most primitive motivations. This hierarchy was ordered cognitively, such that fulfillment of the most basic needs resulted in more attention being given to needs higher up the hierarchy. Needs were also ordered developmentally, such that an infant's only concerns are focused on basic needs, but with maturation comes the desire to fulfill less basic needs, such as love and esteem.
The following report will examine recent organizational research incorporating Maslow's hierarchy of needs into their models. The spectrum of socioeconomic status is sampled, from white collar managers and their employees, to migrant workers and coal-miners in India. What this report will attempt to show is in what ways Maslow's hierarchy of needs is still relevant and where it has failed to keep up with recent findings.
Maslow's Hierarchy Today
Kenrick and colleagues (2010) have argued that Maslow's hierarchy of needs should be updated, rather than relegated to the dustbin of interesting theoretical artifacts concerning human behavior. Apparently, motivation research since Maslow first authored his theory in 1943 has rendered it obsolete in the minds of many behavioral scientists. However, Kenrick et al. (2010) argues that instead of discarding the model altogether, the hierarchy of needs can be restructured to represent overlapping needs, rather than a strict pyramid (Appendix, Fig. 2). For example, the need to eat and connect with others socially does not end as individuals move up the pyramid. In addition, the need for self-actualization, they argue, should be replaced by mating and reproduction activities. By structuring the pyramid in this manner, it encompasses developmental and cognitive sequencing, as well as the evolutionary role of different needs from survival to reproduction.
Maslow's hierarchy of needs may have fallen out of favor with behavioral psychologists, but his motivation model continues to play an important role in systems theory. Kaklauskas and colleagues (2011) incorporated Maslow's hierarchy in a biometric system to help employees manage work-related stress. At the base of a workplace pyramid of needs would be physiological needs, such as the need to eat lunch, visit the restroom, be protected from the weather, and receive a living wage. The next level includes workplace safety, fair compensation in case of an accident or work-related disability, unemployment compensation, health insurance, and a retirement plan. At the middle of the pyramid would be the need to work within an organization conducive to workplace social support networks, such as the opportunity to function as a member of a team. Above this level would be esteem-related issues, such as recognition for exceptional performance through pay raises and advancement. The highest level is equivalent to self-actualization in the workplace and represents ample opportunities for intellectual freedom, engaging in meaningful tasks, and generating creative ideas.
Kaklauskas et al. (2011) argue that stress levels experienced by employees are a direct reflection of unmet needs. If most needs are met, the stress levels are low; however, if the needs of employees are not being met, the symptoms can sometimes be severe to life threatening. These symptoms can range from difficulty focusing on the work at hand to full-blown panic attacks in the workplace or at home. While it would be nice if all employees could have their every need met, Kaklauskas and colleagues (2011) suggest a rational decision making tree, in the form of a computer algorithm, can help troubled employees navigate through different work-related choices to alleviate sources of stress. In other words, raising the wages of all employees may reduce stress levels, but there are frequently more rational and fiscally responsible choices available to managers that can help individual employees meet their needs. It is important to realize that this approach treats each employee as an individual with sometimes unique needs.
Kaklauskas et al. (2011) presented a case study in their article that examined the choices faced by a sales director, which is not representative of the choices faced by most workers. At the opposite end of the socioeconomic spectrum, Eggerth and Flynn (2012) briefly reviewed the Psychology of Work model by David Blustein. According to Blustein, work has three core goals from the employee's perspective: (1) survival and power, (2) social connectedness, and (3) self-actualization (p. 78). These three goals are analogous to Maslow's hierarchy of needs, such that survival is attended to before the need of social connectedness. In addition, Blustein believed that for many low-income, disadvantaged workers, survival is their main concern and rarely do they worry about their need for social connections and self-actualization at work.
Eggerth and Flynn (2012) also argue that the Theory of Work Adjustment (TWA) by Dawis and Lofquist is a modification of Maslow's hierarchy of needs. The TWA model suggests the employee-employer relationship represents a mutual arrangement that satisfies each party's needs through financial, social, and psychological reinforcers. The most basic reinforcers, such as compensation and workplace safety, represent extrinsic reinforcers, while social connections and achievement represent intrinsic reinforcers. These reinforcers likewise can be ordered in a manner similar to Maslow's pyramid, so that extrinsic needs tend to be at the base and intrinsic needs near the top.
Eggerth and Flynn (2012) interviewed 10 immigrant workers and the reinforcers most often mentioned were wages and job security, which was predicted by Blustein. However, in contrast to a pure hierarchy of needs, the immigrant workers also discussed other reinforcers as being important concerns, both extrinsic and intrinsic. This finding contrast with Maslow's 'cognitive priority', which states that fulfillment of more basic needs must occur before an individual becomes concerned with higher needs. Based on Eggerth's and Flynn's (2012) interviews, immigrant workers are concerned about basic and less basic needs simultaneously. This finding is more consistent with the "updated hierarchy of fundamental human motives" proposed by Kenrick et al. (2010, p. 293), which suggests multiple levels of needs can be attended to simultaneously.
Sen, Sen, and Tewary (2012) developed a quality of life questionnaire to assess the attitudes of residents within a coal-mining district in the Damodar River Basin region of India. Since this was a proof-of-principle study, only 70 residents were interviewed, but the findings were inconsistent with Maslow's hierarchy of needs. The highest satisfaction scores were reported for health and the availability of public amenities, like food stores, banks, hotels, post office, and phone service. The lowest satisfaction scores were for having enough money to meet needs and environmental pollution (safety). This finding suggests the sentiment of community members are in part a reflection of the community structure within which they reside. For example, in communities that focus on providing public amenities while ignoring the causes of pervasive poverty, wages will remain a primary concern even if residents are satisfied with the availability of public amenities. Such conditions are reminiscent of the coal mining towns that were in existence in the U.S. over a century…