The Hierarchy of Workplace Needs

How can employers ensure that they meet employees' potential? Maslow's hierarchy of needs is one place to start.
By: | November 22, 2017 • 4 min read
basic needs unlock potential

Just like individuals, employees have basic needs that, when met, motivate and fulfill. Corporate leaders recognize the important role employee fulfillment plays in driving business success, and in recent years there’s been a strong focus on making workplaces collaborative, supportive and engaging. But when it comes to building a great employee engagement experience, executives report they’re struggling to do it well, with the vast majority indicating they’re not ready to address it.

So, how can human resources drive a culture where employees feel connected to the purpose of their organizations? Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a valuable roadmap of how companies can provide for every employee and unlock their full potential. In this article, I’ll share how companies can apply this 74-year old theory we all learned about in our Psych 101 classes to a 21st century workforce.


The notion of an individual’s “basic needs” has evolved to meet those for the new working professional.

Maslow’s “basic needs” are water, security and shelter, but in the workplace, these take the form of on-site amenities, like fitness centers, coffee stations and subsidized meals. And while free caffeine is certainly a pick-me-up, companies must find substantive ways to ease the demands on an employees’ time, both at work and at home, or employees will move on.

With more than 50 percent of workers reporting that work conflicts with life responsibilities several times a week, companies that provide flexible scheduling and mobile technology can make a huge difference. Parents are happy to exchange two hours during the work day to attend their child’s soccer game and give the time back to the company in the evening hours. By acknowledging the 9-5 workday isn’t for everyone, companies are meeting the new “basic needs” of their employee base.

All work and no play makes a dull workplace.

Helping employees strike the right work/life balance means finding ways to make the office go beyond feeling like “just work,” to an engaging and rewarding team environment where they want to be involved. After all, employees are social beings. According to Maslow, they crave — and thrive — when they forge intimate relationships and feel like they belong.

Friendships are critical to employees feeling more satisfied with their work. In fact, employees with close friend at work boosts employee satisfaction by 50 percent, and those with a “best” friend are seven times more likely to “fully engage in their work.” Open floor plans, team luncheons or happy hours, and team-building activities all increase teamwork and individual productivity and make work a happier place to be.