The 5 Levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs [Explained]

Have you ever thought human needs follow some hierarchy? Abraham Maslow thought and made this concept popular worldwide which is known as the need hierarchy theory of motivation.

What is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs?

Abraham Maslow, a human psychologist, developed a motivation theory called the need hierarchy theory. His theory is based on human needs. He classified human needs into five categories.

Maslow explained human needs take form in a hierarchy. He placed the five human needs i.e. physiological needs, security needs, social needs, esteem needs, and self-actualization needs in a hierarchy.

In which the lower order need is at the bottom i.e. physiological needs and higher order needs are subsequently placed at the upper level of the hierarchy. At the top, the self-actualization need is placed.

At the core of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs – only dissatisfied needs motivate people. He further explains once a lower-level need is satisfied another subsequent higher-order need will emerge.

He believed two different needs would never emerge at the same time. Needs take place one by one. People will crave security needs only after fulfilling physiological needs and social needs after fulfilling security needs, and so on.

Maslow’s need hierarchy theory is widely used in organizational settings to motivate employees. It is considered the most useful theory for employee motivation. As such, employees can be motivated to fulfill new or higher-order needs.

Related: Hierarchy of Management

Assumptions of Maslow’s Need Hierarchy Theory

The following are the main assumptions of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

  • People seek growth. Needs to move up in the hierarchal form.
  • A satisfied need is not a motivator. A need that is not satisfied activates human behavior. When a lower need is satisfied, the higher order need emerges.
  • Adult motives are complex. Such need motives influence the behavior of a person.
  • Higher needs can be satisfied in many ways as compared to lower-level needs.
  • No two subsequent levels of needs emerge in a person at a time.

5 Levels of Needs in Maslow’s Hierarchy

The first time, Maslow explained that needs motivate people, and hence the needs influence behavior. The five levels of needs Maslow placed in his hierarchy are presented in the picture and mentioned below:

Need Hierarchy Theory

Physiological Needs

These needs are related to the survival and maintenance of human life. As such, physiological needs are related to most primary or basic needs and must be satisfied before all other needs. These needs include such as air, food, water, sex, rest, clothing, shelter, etc.

So, all the people first, search for such needs to be fulfilled. Besides these needs, different employees at different jobs may have different physiological needs.

For instance, an employee working in a production unit requires enough space to move, rest time, a comfortable working environment, perfect machinery, etc. But, an accountant working in the same organization may need peace, a cash counting machine, a clear procedure for accounting, etc.

The physiological needs of employees can be satisfied by providing marketable wages, salaries, economic incentives, a better working environment, etc.

Security Needs

Once the physiological needs are fulfilled, the next level of needs i.e. security needs will take place. These needs imply the need for self-preservation and economic independence. These are needed to be free from physical danger, threats, and economic deprivation.

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Safety needs can broadly be classified into three categories – physical security, job security, and economic security. An organization can satisfy these needs by providing insurance, job security, a pension plan, job permanency, a medical facility for the job, etc.

Social Needs

Once the safety need is fulfilled, the social or belongingness needs will emerge. Employees are social animals. They expect association, affiliation, belonging, friendship, love, and affection in the workplace.

Such social needs can be fulfilled by participating employees in group work, teamwork, rewarding their skills, and ideas, and participating them in decisions and plans making processes.

Esteem Needs

Esteem needs are the fourth level needs of Maslow’s hierarchy. These needs are concerned with the awareness of self-importance and recognition from others on the job. Such needs are also called ego needs.

Ego is recognizing the self’s ability to accomplish the job at the possible standard. Employees with esteem need to consist of full of self-confidence, and self-respect, desire independence in decision-making, and desire power, prestige, achievements, praise, and status.

Such needs of employees can be fulfilled by allocating challenging jobs, delegating authority, allocating responsibility of team leader, rewarding for best performance, and allowing autonomy.

Self-Actualization Needs

Self-actualization is a need to maximize one’s potential through the optimal use of capability for organizational purposes. This is related to the development of intrinsic capabilities which lead people to seek situations that can utilize their potential.

Employees with such needs have competencies to control environmental changes, the capability of planning, monitoring, and controlling activities at their own initiation, and the special capability of mentoring others. They care less about personal achievement but care more about their roles and responsibilities.

A man with high-intensity achievement needs will be restless unless he/she finds satisfaction in doing what he is fit to do. Normally, such people make separate goals for themselves in the organization. They continuously devote their effort to achieving their goals whatever the conditions are.

The self-actualization needs of the employees can be fulfilled by making them fully autonomous in setting goals, formulation of a course of action, and self-controlling.

Related: Two-Factory Theory of Motivation

Critical Evaluation of Maslow’s Need Hierarchy Theory

As the need hierarchy theory is the first formal study in motivation, it has made a valuable contribution to the field of motivation. But, there are a number of comments made by various researchers. Some of the critical comments are mentioned below:

  • The needs may or may not follow a definite hierarchal order. So, to say, there may be overlapping needs in the hierarchal order. But, Maslow’s basic assumption is that at a time only one level of needs emerges.
  • The need priority model may not be equally applicable at all times, in all organizations, and in all places. Socio-economic, cultural, family structure, etc. factors may make a difference in the need priority. This is neglected by Maslow.
  • The behavior of employees at different times may be guided by multiple factors. Hence, Maslow’s preposition that one level of needs is satisfied at one time may also be doubtfully valid.
  • In a few people, the level of motivation may be permanently lower, or few people always get motivation with basic factors only. For instance, a person suffering from chronic unemployment may remain satisfied for the rest of his life if he gets enough food. In such a situation, motivation may be complex if we follow this theory completely.

Read Next: Theories of Motivation

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