One of the main focuses of modern psychology is the understanding of underlying motivations of human behavior. With this understanding, psychologists can help subjects control or at least influence their behavior in a constructive way. This leads to helping individuals improve various aspects of their personal lives, including interpersonal relationships and career advancement.
Maslow was in innovator in the field of psychology. He authored an important paper in 1943, developed after his extensive experience with others, to explain the motivation for human behavior based on the needs of people. Before this paper, only animals and pure theory had been the main sources of psychological doctrines.
He was also revolutionary by focusing on what constituted positive mental health, instead of what was abnormal or deviant, thereby making his theory more applicable and relevant to the general human population. This theory is why Maslow is now considered the father of humanistic psychology and also of modern management.
Human motivation has been described in Maslow’s theory in the form of a stepped pyramid, or hierarchical ladder. This hierarchy of human needs is useful as a reference even for modern society, and is in order as follows: Physiological needs, safety, social needs, esteem, and self-actualization needs. According to this theory, a person has to start at the lowest level, and can only reach a more advanced level after successfully completing or satisfying each of the preceding steps.
For business managers today, Maslow’s theory still has business implications for managing and motivating employees. Without food, water, shelter, sleep, or the means to obtain them, people can remain at this stage of motivational development. Hunger, thirst, exposure to inclement weather, and physical exhaustion exclude thoughts about anything other than present human survival. For managers, that means that salespeople will need lunch breaks, rest breaks, and enough income to purchase those basic requirements of life.
Once basic physiological requirements are met, employees can worry about imminent and future safety and security. They need to feel safe in their work environment. They cannot reach maximum effectiveness or efficiency when they feel they need to constantly check their back and scan their surroundings for fear of potential threats. Physical threats and relative comfort about job security can be alleviated by security guards, cameras, and responsive management personnel.
Social needs are the next step. People have a need to be included as a member of a community. People in the workforce will feel more like a team if they participate in team building events. Furthermore, a comfortable working environment that is pleasant and promotes team goals and group accomplishments will help to establish the feeling of teamwork.
The fourth stage is esteem. Everyone wants to feel appreciated and valued. They want recognition from their employers and co-workers. Without recognition, morale decreases and so does performance. Most people are defined by their worth which is determined by the recognition they receive. To fulfill that basic need, recognition can be in the form of plaques, certificates or even winning prizes. They way the business manager chooses to recognize the employee is not as important as the recognition itself and the feeling of esteem that is given.
The last step of the hierarchy is self-actualization. This fifth step focuses on people’s desire to reach their full potential. Self-awareness allows them to think abstractly and focus on intangible goals, and to make long-term plans. These areas typically include career development, creative hobbies and other aspects of personal growth. Managers can support this need by assisting with continuing education, sponsoring memberships in professional organizations, and offering a career path that allows for career growth.