Motivational Theory in Practice

Hierarchy of Needs

For decades, business students around the world have been learning about the varying factors in employees motivation. Various models have been put forward, from Frederick Herzberg’s ‘Two Factor Theory’ through to Frederick Winslow Taylor’s belief that employees are motivated almost exclusively by money. Whilst these models are still being taught in school, many of them, particularly Taylor’s theory seem vastly outdated.

The one model that, for me, stands the test of time best, is Abraham Maslow’s ‘Hierarchy of Needs’, which shows that people are motivated on different levels, from the ‘base’ needs of security and survival through to the more aspirational needs of becoming the best version of yourself that you can be. But how do we, as employers apply these theories in practice…

Looking at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, let’s take this one level at a time, and see how we can influence these factors to truly motivate employees.

Physiological Needs

These are the most basic human needs, food, water shelter… It is all about having enough for survival. In the UK, we are lucky enough to have a robust system in place that aims to secure this level of needs for people through benefits. Even without employment, people are able to subsist on a basic level through council houses and unemployment benefits. As such, the specific needs have changed, but the theory still applies. Rather than basic survival, it is more about living a more comfortable life, so having the money to buy good quality food, dishwashers etc will ensure that our modern physiological needs are met. This is where salary can still play an important part in motivation.

Safety Needs

This reflect the desire for us to guard against any ‘nasty surprises’ that may be around the corner. We can influence these needs by increasing employees notice period, so that they have the security of say three months rather than a month. further safety needs can be met with some of the most popular benefits. Providing pension schemes or life insurance for example will help motivate employees at this level.

Social Needs

This is actually an area that many modern company are very good at. Rather than just having the annual company Christmas party, it is becoming more common for companies to regularly organise activities for their staff outside of work. This can really help to build a team, and make people feel like they are needed and appreciated.

Esteem Needs

Opportunities to progress within a company are a great way of fulfilling esteem needs. The possibility of a promotion can being one of the single biggest motivators in modern business, with a set of clearly defined goals in place to provide people with clarity on how they can gain a promotion or where their career is being developed. It doesn’t always have to be a promotion, additional responsibility can give people the same level of boost.

Self Actualisation

This is the need to fulfill ones potential, and is very difficult, if not impossible to achieve in its entirety, but helping employees to get further along the path is very possible and in motivational terms, arguably more effective. self Actualisation can be aided by providing greater access to training and conducting regular reviews, with clearly areas to develop. This should always be done in a constructive way.

Helping to fulfill the different levels of needs can have a huge impact on how motivated employees are, helping to build a loyal, talented and successful workforce.