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The Hierarchy of Workplace Needs

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.

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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.

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Employees need to hear about their accomplishments — and opportunities to grow — in real-time.

Once companies establish an inclusive and comfortable environment for employees, they can take it to the next level by finding ways to promote feelings of accomplishment and esteem. A little encouragement goes a long way, and employees today value an ongoing dialogue more than single, moment-in-time feedback.

In 2016, SAP eliminated annual reviews and implemented SAP Talk, a program where managers can give employees consistent feedback on their performance. It’s working, too. During the pilot phase of the project, 89 percent of early adopters of the program indicated they had a clear understanding of what is expected of them regarding goals, tasks and projects, which delivers positive outcomes for the business.

Employees want to be accountable and feel like they are contributing to the bottom line.

When companies provide for the first three needs, they can challenge themselves to help employees achieve self-actualization, meaning they feel empowered and free to make autonomous decisions that deliver value. In fact, 91 percent of employees indicate that accountability is a top development need they want to see in their organization. Just as employees want a strong team dynamic, they also want to feel trusted to make decisions at work. It makes them feel valued and motivates them to do their very best work.

At the same time, employees want to understand how they fit in with their organization from a growth standpoint. And on a personal level, it’s important for employees to feel like the company direction aligns with their beliefs. It’s something companies have to pay attention to: less than half of workers feel strongly connected to their company’s mission. When employees believe in the company’s mission and their own ability to contribute, organizations strengthen their ability to attract high-performing individuals who have a vested interest to contribute.

In today’s marketplace, it is a necessity for companies to build cultures that rightly value individual abilities — and that starts by meeting basic needs. Providing workers with the tools and autonomy to be successful, making them feel a strong purpose within the organization and aligning their goals to business objectives can empower workers to deliver strong business results.