Maslow's Motivation theory in business today - a blog from Business Butler

Applying Maslow’s theory on motivation to businesses today

The most important asset any company has is its staff. Successful managers realise that if they keep their workers happy then it will have a positive effect throughout the whole business.

So, the key question is how do managers keep staff happy? Is it by paying them lots of money? Rewarding them with bonuses and promotion? Or praising them when they do well? The answer is yes to all of these, but there is so much more too, because the key to looking after this valuable resource is understanding what motivates them.

And although the world of business has changed considerably throughout the decades, the principles of motivation have not. In fact, the most eminent motivational theorist was American psychologist Abraham Maslow, who published his ‘Hierarchy of Needs’ theory almost 80 years ago. Regardless of how long ago Maslow’s Motivation theory dates back to, it is still relevant, and we will look at how it can be applied to businesses today.


What is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs theory?

This theory is depicted by a pyramid with five distinct stages, starting with physiological needs at the bottom and climbing to self-actualisation at the top of the pyramid. Maslow stated that humans were unable to progress onto to the next step of the pyramid until their needs had been met on the previous level.


  1. Physiological needs
  2. Safety
  3. Love and belonging
  4. Esteem
  5. Self-actualisation


Physiological needs

According to Maslow’s Motivation theory, the physiological needs at the base of the pyramid are the most basic of human needs. At work, these would be represented by providing staff with a pleasant working environment with break times for snacks, meals and drinks and a dedicated area to enjoy these away from their workstation. And obviously access to toilets and hand wash facilities as well as refreshments including water and hot drinks. Salary comes under this need because it enables the worker to pay for accommodation, food, utilities and other essential services required to live.


It is human nature to want to feel safe and secure and in the workplace and employees would expect their employer to value their safety and take measures to protect them. Staff shouldn’t be put in a position of risk at work and health and safety training would mitigate the risk. Office security, especially at entry and exit points should be installed to eradicate the threat of dangerous people entering the building. Psychologically, staff want to feel safe emotionally, and not worry about redundancies. Reassurance about employees future roles within the company is essential to remain highly motivated.


Love and belonging

Everybody wants to feel loved and at work this involves making friends and having a sense of belonging. This is important in a company because if a worker doesn’t feel part of a team their morale would drop and have a detrimental effect on performance. Therefore, it is important that managers engage everyone and reaffirm their importance to the business. Organising social events outside of the work environment and team bonding activities have proven to be advantageous for employees and employers alike.



The next level is one of esteem, where prestige and a feeling of accomplishment is important and directly linked to performance. Employees need to know that by achieving personal objectives they are contributing to the overall success of the business and want recognition for this. Promotion and job titles can be important in boosting esteem. Praise needs to be given by managers regularly and not just reserved for the annual job review. Empowerment is also crucial here.



Self-actualisation represents the pinnacle of the pyramid and is achieved when employees reach their full potential, Maslow’s motivation theory would suggest. This may have happened through several promotions and workers who have reached this stage are powerful forces of positivity for companies. To achieve this, the work needs to have been challenging and staff taken out of their comfort zone. Managers still need to guide their staff even at this level because once all needs are met there will be new challenges and goals set in order to avoid complacency and roles becoming stagnant.


A key point to remember is that employees are individuals and what motivates one person may not motivate another. For example, a salesperson will probably be motivated by money as a reward for reaching targets but someone in customer services may prefer praise and recognition for their work. This is where good management is essential to determine at what stage each worker is on Maslow’s pyramid, identify their needs and choose the best method of motivation to help them evolve. The objective is for everyone is to reach the stage of self-actualisation and when this happens you truly have a dynamic and efficient workforce ready to drive any business onwards and upwards

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