Employee Hierarchy of Needs, Part 1 of 3: Basic Needs

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The idea of a Hierarchy of Needs came from Abraham Maslow in 1943, when he published a paper titled, A Theory of Human Motivation. Maslow proposed the concept that humans are motivated to attain certain needs (basic, psychological, and self-fulfillment), and some needs are prioritized over other needs (basic needs must be met before fulfilling psychological needs, etc.).

A human’s most basic need is for physical survival: food, water, shelter, safety. Once the basic needs are addressed or fulfilled, the level above will motivate us next.

What are an employee’s basic needs in the workplace, and how do these needs relate to employee engagement?

First, let’s define employee engagement. Engaged employees are rare. According to Gallup, a research-based, global performance-management consulting company, only 15% of employees world wide are engaged. In my article How to Increase Engagement: Treat Your Employees like They Matter, I describe the many different definitions of employee engagement. They all revolve around a common theme: emotional commitment and attachment to one’s workplace and fellow employees. Engaged employees feel a profound connection and commitment to their company; they work with passion, they are loyal, and they are willing to go the extra mile.

According to Maslow’s concept of needs, the basic needs are physiological needs and safety needs. In the workplace, let’s replace physiological needs with workspace, and safety needs with security and stability.

Basic Needs


Workspace includes where we are and what physical items we have when we work each day. Do we have the appropriate items to get our job done, like a place to sit? Updated computers with updated software? Is the workspace a comfortable temperature? How about the noise levels?

workspaceWhile these considerations may seem simple, they are easy to overlook. I once had a job where the temperature swung from one extreme to the other. One day it was cold enough to wear a winter jacket all day, and the next it was so hot people began feeling faint.

If we are going to invest in hiring the right individual, why would we set them up in a workspace where they won’t be able to fully function or achieve our expectations? If someone joins our team and they don’t have a dedicated workspace, or the technology is too old or slow and it hinders their ability to do their job, will they feel valued? Probably not – if their place of employment cannot meet their basic workspace needs, it’s likely they will only accomplish the bare minimum to get by. If they don’t feel like they can do their job, it’s unlikely they can do their job well or feel a sense of pride or accomplishment about their job.


Once workspace issues have been addressed, we can focus on security and stability issues. This level addresses feeling safe in our jobs and has two features:

Security: work environment fosters a feeling of job security, and is free of threats of physical or emotional harm.

Stability: organizational and team stability.

first aidMost work environments are free from threats of physical harm, but what about emotional harm? A survey conducted in 2014 by Vital Smarts revealed that 96% of survey respondents have experienced bullying at work. 62% of those who experienced bullying at work saw bullies sabotage others’ work or reputations, 52% saw browbeating, threats, or intimidation, and 4% saw physical intimidation or assault. The Vital Smart team also noted how bullying in the workplace affects workplace costs:

Twenty percent of respondents said dealing with workplace bullies cost them 7-plus hours a week in lost time. That’s $8,800 in lost wages to those workers or their employers every year.

Money - stacks of coinsAn individual’s feeling of job security is also important. If you are constantly worried you might be fired at any moment, the chances of you being able to come in and do your best work are low. It’s hard to ensure job security for anyone; one way to help combat the anxiety associated with job security is to provide employees with positive feedback and gratitude. This positive reinforcement might help give your team the security they need to perform their jobs at their highest level. For more information about the benefits of gratitude in the workplace, check out my articles 4 Reasons Why You Should Express Gratitude Both In & Out of the Workplace and 3 Ways Gratitude Promotes a Culture of Engagement in the Workplace.

Turning our focus to stability, consider how much turnover your organization or department experiences. If an organization feels out of control, it’s likely employees also feel like their day-to-day tasks and duties are out of their control. If these things appear out of an employee’s control, they may feel like what they contribute to the company or department doesn’t matter. If someone feels like their contribution doesn’t matter, why would they take initiative, work with passion, or go the extra mile?

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For organizations, departments, or teams experiencing low employee engagement, the first opportunity for improvement is with your employee’s basic needs: workspace and security & stability.

Take a moment to consider whether your team, department, or company has a positive workspace and ideal working conditions for your employees, or anxiety regarding job security. Are employees confident about their job security both now and in the future? Have you noticed, or has an employee reported, a workplace bully that hasn’t been adequately addressed?

Thank you for taking the time to read my post! If you’re looking for ways to increase your organization’s level of employee engagement, please review my services here and contact me here.

This was originally posted on LinkedIn on January 19th, 2018. See the full post here.

Please check the second article in this series, Employee Hierarchy of Needs, Part 2 of 3: Psychological Needs.

*Credit to Zen Workplace and Health Links for the employee engagement hierarchical/framework concept.