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Is your company fulfilling basic human needs?

by Millie Catling

June 11, 2020

Millie Catling, Research & Insights at Wiser

Businesses are nothing without their people. Yet many employers fail to consider our hierarchy of needs when putting together business plans and talent strategies. Millie Catling, a member of Wiser’s Research & Insights team, explores how companies can use Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to inform their employee engagement and talent attraction strategies. From satisfying our instinctual, deficiency needs to the growth needs of self-actualisation, how can work improve our quality of life?

Maslow’s 1943 ‘A Theory of Human Motivation’ makes the case that we are all determined to reach ‘self-actualisation’ – an optimal state in which we feel adequately fulfilled in all moral and creative aspects. But first, we must meet five stages of needs in a linear fashion.

The reason Maslow’s theory holds such strong relevance when it comes to employer branding is that if people feel their needs are not being met, this deprivation result will motivate them to seek what they’re missing elsewhere. But it’s bigger than just employer branding alone. Happier employees with their needs met give a business the foundation to have more productive and efficient teams. So, with business plans and people’s needs in mind, how can an employer provide for the levels of instinctual needs, and then give people room to grow and fulfil their individual need for personal betterment?

Slapping a bandaid basket of muffins in the office kitchen isn’t enough. The approach needs to be holistic, and each level addressed with company-wide initiatives that focus on everything from benefits packages to managerial structures. We also need to overturn the historic notion that home lives should be kept separate from work. Sleep deprivation, for example, hinders workers’ productivity at a cost of £40 billion to UK businesses each year. It’s in the employer's best interest to recognise and (where possible) resolve personal issues, even if it’s just talking them through.

Physiological needs

The biological requirements for human survival.

While working conditions may not be as life-or-death as food and water (unless health and safety is concerned), it can definitely be costly. Employee experiences will not only determine retention rates but may dictate whether you’re an employer of choice for talent in the future. An impression of how caring and considerate you are as an employer will be made the first time an interviewee visits the workplace. Even something as seemingly menial as room temperature can create an unpleasant atmosphere and dampen productivity.

Let individuals be their own time managers

  • Treat your employees with the trust they deserve – hopefully they’re adults who can determine appropriate times for a cuppa.
  • Avoid keeping tabs – encouraging regular breaks and freedom over when to take them will build mutual respect.

Make a home away from home

  • Build an inspiring office space – think comfortable breakout areas and on-brand motivational decals that give that warm familiar feeling.
  • Stock the kitchen with free refreshments (breakfast goes a long way, too).
  • Keep the doors metaphorically open so a refreshing stroll never feels frowned upon.

Protect life outside the office.

  • Pay a dependable salary – bare in mind there will always be another company willing to pay more, so hefty pay packets alone won’t drive employee engagement.
  • Extra holiday allowance never goes amiss, but it needs a minimal-stress handover procedure to urge everyone to use it.

Safety needs

The desire to be in control of our lives and to make them orderly and predictable.

These needs reflect more than meeting the government guidelines of ensuring there are no dodgy kettles or hazardous tangled wires; people tend to thrive off routine and the ability to see stability and security. Expressing your commitment to your people and their futures will increase the likelihood of it being reciprocated with loyalty.

Lay supportive foundations

  • Consider above-average statutory sick pay and add medical insurance to the benefits package.
  • Implementing ergonomic furniture and equipment such as laptop stands prevent strain in stationary offices.

Negotiate role parameters to meet everyone’s best interests.

  • Flexible working or the ability to work from home, where possible, instils trust in employees and allows them to craft a routine that bolsters their focus during scheduled hours

Banish taboos and open up communication.

  • Open conversations about mental health in the workplace start a dialogue in which people feel comfortable asking for help.
  • Transparency around company finances will prevent gossip and deter doubt.

Belonging needs

The attachments to larger groups that offer familiarity and love.

For many, work offers a sense of community and for some, it provides the possibility of friendships they may not have elsewhere. All business all the time results in rigid colleague interactions which can suffer from being superficial. It’s an employer’s responsibility to facilitate the blossoming of more meaningful work relationships from the moment a successful applicant accepts their offer.

Welcome newcomers with open arms

  • Send branded care packages with guides to the business and the best lunch spots in the local area.
  • Arrange coffee chats across teams.For entry-level roles, where it may be a first job, buddying people up to resolve questions can be a reassurance.

Unite everyone on grounds other than work

  • Quarterly team socials and (bi)annual company celebrations guarantee people feel rewarded for their work and get everyone rallied for the following months.
  • Workplace friendships drive engagement and hiring everyone around a shared set of values means they’re likely to have other things in common too.
  • Peer-to-peer recognition schemes can be a beneficial time-rather-than-monetary investment. Increasing connections rather than putting individuals on a pedestal with shiny rewards lends itself to a less competitive, more collaborative team spirit.

Champion diversity and inclusion

  • Adding sports and sober socials offer opportunities to bond away from a drinking culture that doesn’t suit everyone. Don’t forget that timings can be exclusive too - those with young children will appreciate daytime socials, or at least a significant heads up to arrange childcare.
  • Promoting a notion of no judgement will help people bring their true selves to work and respect other’s work-life balance.

Esteem needs

The reflection of our self-worth obtained from accomplishment and prestige.

Maslow broke this down to mean both having esteem for oneself and receiving respect from others. In order to supersede this stage, employees need to feel capable of doing their work, while facing challenges that expand their knowledge without overwhelming and diminishing their self-confidence. Essentially they must develop a professional identity in which they take pride in their work and are recognised for their successes.

Set expectations from the offset

  • Well-articulated job descriptions prevent unwelcome surprises.
  • Structured review frameworks will maintain frequent feedback across the year.

Instil confidence in one another

  • Micromanagement breeds self-doubt – give autonomy wherever possible.
  • Recognition schemes from small shoutouts to awards ceremonies facilitate an ongoing praise culture.
  • Job titles provide a sense of status – it’s important that they accurately reflect responsibilities.

Let it shine through social

  • Publish content that shows you care about your people as well as your clients.
  • Boast about what your employees are doing for you, as well as in their own time.

Self-actualisation needs

The cherry on Maslow’s cake of contentment.

Everyone can get by, happily enough, without delving into this final level, but they won’t be their best self for the company and will most likely begin to feel stagnated. Represented by the drive to reach one’s full potential – to become the most that one can be – self-actualised employees are empowered by the accumulation of personal growth, purposeful work and peak experiences (valuable moments of joy that trigger creative energies).

Offer opportunities to flex

  • Open up initiatives for everyone to get involved with - siloing teams means that valuable input may be missed from others across the organisation.
  • Ongoing accessible training budgets present the chance to hone new skills or refresh ones off the shelf.

Highlight individual impact

  • Not every role can directly contribute to the greater good of the world, or even be visible outside of the office. It’s crucial to this final stage that every employee finds purpose in their work, that it is meaningful and that they’re appreciated for it.

Springboard peak experiences

  • Drum up workplace energy with immediate gratification for wins both big and small. A simple round of applause or flurry of gratuitous Whatsapp GIFs will elevate the mood and spark feelings of accomplishment.

Beyond self-actualisation being the pinnacle of human development, Maslow later added self-transcendence. Put simply, this is the realisation that you are part of something greater than yourself and in turn, aspiring to attain higher goals than those which are self-serving. In employment terms, this means working past one’s own career motives to achieve success on behalf of the company.

Self-actualised people are best equipped to be committed and engaged employees, but they need a specific focus to channel their enthusiasm. Hiring with a collective set of values in mind will ensure that each individual possesses the same traits to drive towards an overarching company mission. Frequently reinstating this groundwork will keep employees aligned, and in combination with all the necessary measures to meet their fundamental human needs, it will act as a springboard for internal happiness and commercial success.

At this time, Coronavirus has either exposed employers as ruthless and profit-oriented, or as true to their values and people-focused. How C-suites act during this uncertainty will be remembered in the recruitment periods to come, making it the ideal time to address your shortcomings as an employer and to secure a contented future for your people.

To understand how the Wiser ship has battened down its hatches and navigated safely through the pandemic thus far, watch this video put together by our clever Films team.


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