Psychologist Abraham Maslow created a motivational framework called Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Comprised of a five-tier pyramid, it demonstrates the connection between career motivation and productivity and human needs. You can use this ladder to move your success up the rungs. To reach your goals you must meet all five levels of basic needs at each rung to move from the bottom to the top: (1) Physiological Needs (2) Safety And Security (3) Compassion and Belonging (4) Self-Esteem and (5) Self-Actualization. Check out where your needs or those of workers under your management fall on the hierarchy of success then assess what you can do to foster your career goals and those of team members.
1. How Can I Ensure Basic Physiological Needs Are Met?
If you’re in a leadership position, the well-being of employees is your top priority. At this bottom level, the basic human needs you can’t live without are food, water, restorative rest, sleep and oxygen. You can’t meet a pressured deadline or be happy and productive if you’re hungry, thirsty, tired or exhausted. Unfortunately, many companies send mixed messages to their workers. They extol them for working excessive hours, cite overwork as exemplary in hiring practices and reward workaholics with larger salaries and promotions. Yet HR personnel and mental health professionals stress the importance of time off, vacations and work/life balance for career success.
To offset this contradiction under your leadership, you advocate self-care as the foundation of job productivity and career success, starting with healthy eating, adequate sleep and regular exercise. You encourage employees to strive for work/life balance and a full, integrated life outside of work: play, self-care, relationships and spiritual needs. You encourage employees to take lunch breaks, vacations and time off to incubate and hatch creative ideas and recharge their batteries so they can return with renewed energy to perform at their highest potential. And you support mental health in the workplace in order for employees to thrive.
2. How Can I Address Safety And Security Needs?
The health, safety and security of your work environment contribute to the overall success of any business. To perform optimally at work, employees must feel safe—physically, psychologically and financially in terms of job security. Employees need a secure and safe workspace free from distractions or threats. When lighting is too low, temperature too cold or hot or offices too noisy, it’s more difficult to knock out that project or meet a short deadline. You advocate for a company workplace safety plan or Environmental, Safety and Health Policy Statement that protects employees from injury or work-related illness and ensures that offices are secure from intruders.
You’re also an advocate of psychological safety making sure employees are shielded from threats and intimidation. A Korn Ferry Survey reveals that 70% of professionals are more guarded at work in 2019 than five years ago, and 58% believe teamwork and comradery suffer because of this increased guardedness. Employees are more cautious (69%) about how they communicate with coworkers and clients and more guarded (58%) in giving and receiving performance reviews. Deloitte studies show that 32% of employees don’t trust in their leadership, and two out of every three workers are actively looking for new jobs. A majority of employees (95%) refuses to disclose to management the real reasons for taking time away from the office. Other studies indicate that bosses are the biggest sources of stress among the workforce and that employees don’t feel safe confiding in their employer about a mental health issue. It’s important to advocate for physical and psychological employee safeguards. In meeting their needs at this level, you send a message that you care about them as human beings, not just worker bees. And you create an atmosphere of openness, comradery and teamwork, boosting job satisfaction, morale and productivity.
3. How Can I Demonstrate Empathy And Belonging?
If you tried to collect all the tears shed by the American workforce, they would fill an ocean. A sense of belonging is central to who we are as human beings at work, home or play. Studies show that empathy is a pivotal leadership tool in today’s global market. Your leadership effectiveness rests on the ability to express empathy and communicate to employees that they belong. Rae Shanahan, Chief Strategy Officer at Businessolver, just released the Empathy Study, which reports that employees believe when organizations provide programs that demonstrate empathy such as mental health benefits, it ramps up productivity (48%) and motivation (42%), reduces turnover (39%) and creates a sense of belonging in the organization (36%).
Progression at this rung requires that you lead with compassionate directness and emotional honesty. To accomplish this, it takes an awareness of your own emotional intelligence and an understanding that empathy and consideration for employees goes a long way to foster a successful team. You recognize your own emotions and those of others and lead with integrity, empathy and judiciousness through difficult, unfair or pressure-filled work challenges. You build trust and empower teams to build belonging, authenticity and innovativeness. You create a trusting and understanding environment of the ins-and-outs of job stressors—a safe workplace where employees can unbutton their feelings with leaders who understand and are trustworthy. Research shows that inclusion and empathy motivate employees up the ladder toward their goals.
4. How Can I Build Self-Esteem Needs?
You’re fully aware that positive employee self-esteem is vital to the success of your organization’s bottom line. And you go out of your way to boost the self-worth of your workforce. Studies show that organizational self-esteem fosters job satisfaction, company loyalty, higher motivation, job performance and lower turnover. If you’re an employee who feels good about yourself, you’re able to focus better, need less time off and have better interpersonal relationships with coworkers, thereby creating healthy group morale.
The attitude you bring to the office—positive or negative—is contagious and spreads to others in the workplace. Optimism encourages you to focus on possibilities, potential and solutions instead of deficits, past regrets and problems. You delegate work responsibilities, instead of micromanaging, and your encouragement of independence sends a message to employees that you trust their performance abilities.
When colleagues sense that you believe in them, it helps them believe in themselves. And employees who believe in themselves can accomplish more for the organization.
You don’t let the rapid pace of work demands dwarf your acknowledgment of a job well done (yours or a colleague’s). You give credit where credit is due. You facilitate professional growth with pep talks and affirmations, encourage employees to be their best selves and reward them for meeting their quotas or other accomplishments. You employ compassionate directness by giving honest, constructive feedback during reviews and let employees know that negative reviews are not personal attacks that define them as human beings but rather information to help them grow their careers.
5. How Can I Promote Self-Actualization In The Workplace?
At the highest rung on the pyramid, you actualize your leadership skills and the career goals of coworkers, helping them reach their full potential—even if it means they might find a promotion or a higher-paying position elsewhere. If you’re a self-actualized worker, you manage with a growth mindset—encouraging lifelong learning and resilience, helping employees to accept failure and success equally and to remain confident in their pursuits after a letdown. You adopt and share the mindset that setbacks happen for you, not to you. You’re a creative risk taker willing to stretch beyond customary bounds and stick your neck outside your comfort zone. You welcome shortcomings and mistakes—no matter how painful, frustrating, big or small—and envision them as lessons from which to learn. You encourage employees to ask, “What can I manage or overcome here?” or “How can I turn a roadblock into a steppingstone?” You’re a master of self-correction, good problem solver, solution focused and lead with integrity. Eight qualities beginning with the letter “C” indicate that you’ve reached the level of self-actualization. Put a check mark by the C-words you believe you’ve mastered and an X by the ones that still need cultivation:
- ___1. An unmistakable feeling of Calm and loss of the ability to worry about the outcomes of your work efforts
- ___2. A sense of Curiosity about your performance with less interest in judging your coworkers or yourself and more interest in improving your job performance
- ___3. A heightened ability to act from Confidence instead of from past rejections and failures or future fears
- ___4. A satisfying Connectedness with colleagues and with yourself versus isolation from them
- ___5. An overwhelming sense of Clarity and direction about your workplace performance and future career goals
- ___6. An increased susceptibility for Compassion for yourself and coworkers with an interest in mentoring and teamwork through the job’s hard knocks
- ___7. Greater Courage to take professional risks, face career challenges on its terms instead of yours and to let uncontrollable situations happen instead of making them happen your way
- ___8. Frequent bursts of Creativity and unrestrained joy.
Take time to figure out what level you’re on in the hierarchy of motivational needs. Then make a plan and take actions that move you farther up the rungs of the career ladder. Happy stepping!