After speaking at the Accountingweb LIVE event in December 2021 I was asked to write a few words regarding the observations I made, about what is important to employees and how it can help employers to motivate their people by understanding Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
Abraham Maslow was an American psychologist who in 1943 published a paper in the Psychological Review journal which he called “A Theory of Human Motivation” but which has come to be universally known as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. That hierarchy is still very relevant today in considering how we can best understand how to motivate employees in a way that works for them and for the employer.
What is the Hierarchy of Needs?
Maslow’s theory is split between what is often referred to as ‘deficiency needs’ and ‘growth needs’. This is an important point to remember. Though it is fair to say that people want to know that what they are doing is valuable and counts, if they are at a level of deficiency needs then dealing with the deficiency will come first.
This is often shown as a triangle:
At our base level we need our Physiological needs met. There is absolutely no point talking to an employee and trying to motivate them to be all they can be and reach for the stars if the most important things on their list of needs is clean water to drink, food on the table, somewhere warm to sleep, a roof over their heads and clothes on their backs.
The second deficiency need is Safety. This includes personal security, stable employment and security that the rent will be paid or the mortgage met and they won’t be out on the street this time next week. If this is what is filling someone’s mind then talking to them about the next team building event or being recognised as the employee of the month, is going to go down like a lead balloon. Without this understanding you will be wondering why they don’t seem enthused.
The above are what is termed the deficiency needs. I am sure you can see that if those are the most important things in someone’s life right now then don’t be surprised (or offended) to find that job security and pay are their top priorities. Certainty of pay and job security will come before how much they earn and that can be nurtured, but level of pay may not be far behind.
Love and belonging. Once those initial deficiency needs are met then and only then do we start to think about relationships, friendships, family and sense of connection. Some of the needs for a sense of belonging can be attained through relationships at work and feeling we are part of a team and working towards a common aim. This is also why people will join clubs and groups and take up group hobbies. We are generally social creatures, but only once our most primal deficiency needs are met.
Once those deficiency needs are met then we start to think about our growth needs.
We want to be recognised. Recognised firstly as individual beings. One of our favourite words is our own name. Also recognised for our contribution. So recognition within the workplace can help meet this need. It might be as simple as a pat on the back or a friendly “thank you”. Being given a certain level of freedom rather than micro-managed conveys trust and respect.
Ultimately, according to Maslow, is self-actualisation. Being all you can be. This may be met by being given responsibility, perhaps managing a team or a department or a branch. Or possibly through starting and building your own business! These needs can also be met by providing team training and helping people to grow and to feel they are growing as a person.
Maslow believed that we have an inbuilt desire to self-actualise. But we won’t be thinking about that until we are sure we have food on the table, a roof over our heads and we can clothe the kids.
Maslow’s original theory said that each level must be completely satisfied and fulfilled before moving on to a higher pursuit. He later clarified that the satisfaction of needs is not an all-or-none situation and that the needs don’t require to be 100% satisfied before moving onto the next need. That does mean that we all want at least a part of all of the above, we shouldn’t exclude any of these needs and treat one in isolation, but I do like to think it helps to recognise what the likely primary need is for the individual being considered.
Indeed, I have heard it said that all negativity is rooted in the frustration of potential. We know we are capable of so much more and we are frustrated with ourselves.
What can employers do to help motivate their people?
Tony Robbins, the modern American self-development gurus, says that there is no such thing as lazy people. Only a lack of motivation. It is all about motivation. Robbins himself speaks of the six human needs: certainty, uncertainty/variety, significance, connection/love, growth, and contribution. Which bears great resemblance to Maslow’s Hierarchy.
When we were at school, or at least back when I was at school, the learning was primarily by listening to the teacher or looking at what the teacher wrote on the blackboard. This was no motivation for the kid who wanted to work with their hands and be a carpenter or a motor engineer but put those same kids in the woodwork or metal-work class and they excelled.
How funny that we all complain about lack of time but can always find time for the things we love to do.
Find out what motivates your employees as individuals.
Everyone can be motivated. We just need to recognise that what motivates one person may be different for the next and I find an understanding of Maslow Hierarchy can be a very useful place to start. You can hear me speak on this a little more in this video:
The Armadillo solution to help employers motivate their people
Previously, I ran and built an accountancy practice with a team of twelve people. I’m embarrassed to tell you how much I spent on new software and other shiny ideas to improve the practice. Until I started to realise that the most impressive bit of software in the office is the computer between the ears of all of those who worked there.
If I focused on how the team utilised their time; how they interacted with clients and prospects; what focus team members put into winning new work with each interaction, what a different practice I would have.
The first key to doing that was understanding key motivations. The second key then was team training that spoke to their motivations.
This experience was the inspiration for Armadillo Academy. The academy focuses on the development and motivation of your key team members, managers and partners. Our 4 key training programs are specifically designed to help improve the effectiveness of your key resources (you and your team).
Imagine how much easier life would be if you and all your team all felt motivated. If they were all pointed in the same direction. Working and striving every day to improve your business.
When working with a team it is essential everyone is motivated to operate well individually. If you need some help with team motivation we’d love to hear from you! Just fill in this form and we’ll be in touch.