An Adaption of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs for the Workplace- A Starting Guide for Our New Leaders
It’s March of 2022. Almost two years to the day since our world as we knew it shut down. Masks are still worn throughout the city of Philadelphia, but it’s nice to see it populated again. We have adapted to a new sense of normalcy in the workplace. Elbow bumps have become the new handshakes, although luckily for our funny bones, the strength of them isn’t measured. A successful vaccine has become available to the general public, and our country is much healthier than two years ago both physically and emotionally. In my organization within Penn, we now follow a hybrid schedule where we alternate with working from home and from the office. It’s a much more flexible and family-friendly schedule than we were used to before the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted everything we knew. We have all spent time reflecting on what is truly important to us, learned to balance the digital world, and engaged more presently with our families.
I am graduating from the Organizational Dynamics program this year, and have been perplexed throughout my studies, at how this has really been the first time in my life that I have deliberately studied leadership at length. Despite competing for a high-level collegiate women’s golf team, coaching, and working in the field of intercollegiate athletics, I have never truly spent time studying leadership, what type of leader I want to be, and how I can most positively impact my workplace. I wanted to provide here a starter kit for leadership, to be provided to my organization, and also in the hopes that it can help others. I have attempted to relate Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (McLeod, 2020) to the needs of employees in my organization. This was written through my lens, in the hope to have a positive impact in my organization and beyond.
I will begin by briefly summarizing Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, as depicted in the pyramid below. Maslow’s pyramid works sequentially, in that each lower level of needs within the pyramid must be fulfilled before progressing to the next level, with originally the highest level and goal being self-actualization, until Maslow later added transcendence to the top of the pyramid (Ackerman, 2020). The fundamental needs are physiological, including food, drink, and shelter. Once these needs are met, the second level of needs as outlined by Maslow are safety needs, where one’s needs for security must be filled. The third level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs are those of love and belonging. These are fulfilled through relationships. The fourth level of Maslow’s pyramid is needs of esteem. Maslow divided esteem needs into those from yourself and those from others. These are made up of qualities such as self-esteem, mastery, respect, and recognition. The fifth and originally the ultimate stage of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is self-actualization, where a person recognizes what is important to them and achieves their potential (McLeod, 2020). This stage is never-ending, as personal growth, as we’ve studied in the Dynamics program, is a continuum. Transcendence, as later added by Maslow, is a state of placing others ahead of yourself, and being driven by the greater good of those around you. Transcendence is all about believing in a higher purpose and striving to act accordingly (Ackerman, 2020).
I will now attempt to depict Maslow’s hierarchy of needs for leadership for my organization, in the hopes that this can be adapted to a multitude of organizations. Starting from the bottom, physiological needs to build the culture of leadership I desire for my organization are relatively basic yet extremely important. I am labeling this level flexibility and prioritization of self-care. Our team must have a flexible, comfortable, feasible work schedule and space. We learned from the Great Reckoning that many teams can function extremely well remotely, so flexibility is a need and desire that must be met. Happy teams are more engaged and produce better results for their organizations. The era of working the lowest members of the team the hardest has long gone. Especially in an industry where health is a priority, employees are expected to take at least one walking meeting per day. Daytime workouts are promoted, as well as atypical work schedules and computer breaks. As long as your work is complete, work schedules must work for our people, as their physiological needs are the highest priority. We really encourage the prioritization of physical, mental, and emotional health among our staff, and want to ensure everyone has the flexibility to truly make this a priority. In order to lead those around you, you must be in a space where you are able to do so. Therefore, take great care of yourself so that you can take great care of your team.
The next level of needs for our leaders are those of safety and security. I have labeled this in my pyramid as transparency. The traditional hierarchical structure of organizations from the past are no longer relevant. We promote a culture of openness, as opposed to fearing the leaders. Collaboration among different departments is strongly encouraged. Cultures with fear are not conducive for growth, diversity of thought, or innovation. Transparency is highly valued, especially coming out of the Great Reckoning, a period with so much uncertainty. Honesty and integrity are the best ways to communicate, even in the most difficult of times, and will promote trust and community among team members.
The third level of needs for our teams and how we foster leadership are those surrounding relationships. This level in our leadership pyramid is called relationships and mentorship. We prioritize our relationships within our teams and know that in the words of John Eldred and Janet Greco, they are “mistake insurance.” Creating and fostering positive relationships with those you work with on a daily basis, as well as others within the department, is of the highest priority. Having strong relationships is the best way for a team to function. When your team operates remotely, create time during your work day to reach out to fellow co-workers just to connect. This is not as organic in the remote workspace, and therefore must be prioritized. We also strongly encourage mentorship across the department. Engagement between individuals especially from different departments is extremely important as we can all learn from and lead one another to be our best selves.
The fourth level of needs for our teams and how we encourage leadership is through esteem. During the Great Reckoning when teams suddenly transitioned to remote work, this level became extremely difficult to achieve. Therefore, for my leadership pyramid, the fourth level is titled appreciation and gratitude. Appreciation and gratitude were really missing from everyday life during the Great Reckoning, as “water cooler conversations” were nonexistent. Business relationships became very transactional as leaders themselves were fearful and screen-fatigued. As a leader in our division, make it a habit of calling people out during meetings for the good work they’ve done. All employees like feeling appreciated and respected for their contributions to the team. Sending a thank you card in the mail or leaving it on a team member’s desk can be a nice gesture for someone that really went above and beyond, or providing a gift card for a coffee as a thank you can go a long way.
The fifth and originally the final level of needs for our teams to thrive is self-actualization. A great leader encourages and challenges their team to reach their full potential. Check in with your team members on a regular basis individually to inquire about their goals and their professional development. Ask how you can help them achieve these goals. Provide for them the autonomy to take risks and fail fast, for it is in this space where their best contributions will be created. I am titling this final level of needs for leaders as continuous learning. In the spirit of athletics as well as Dynamics, perfection can never be attained. But being open and in a space where you are constantly willing to learn from those both below and above you will set you up for continuous success!
The final level of needs for fostering a successful team is transcendence. This level is all about truly believing in the mission of what we do in the workplace and enjoying the work! I am labeling this level as harmony. I believe when our leaders are in a state of harmony, their work lives and personal lives are happily integrated. When our leaders lead harmoniously, they have the well-being of their teams at the forefront of all that they do. This good intent even extends beyond our teams to our stakeholders, customers, and constituents. In this stage, there is no need for buy-in among our staff, because harmonious team members opt-in to the mission. We wholeheartedly believe in the vision for our team for the future and that attitude is carried throughout each day, meeting, and moment. I hope this adaption of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs will inspire you to transform your own leadership capabilities, and with teamwork, strive for new heights as high as pyramid peaks!
Resources Used for Maslow’s hierarchy of needs information:
Ackerman, C. (2020, October 12). What is Self-Transcendence? Definition and 6 Examples (+PDF). Retrieved November 21, 2020. https://positivepsychology.com/selftranscendence/#:~:text=Abraham%20Maslow%20on%20Self%2DTranscendence,Maslow’s%20famous%20Hierarchy%20of%20Needs.&text=According%20to%20Maslow%2C%20self%2Dtranscendence,see%20from%20a%20higher%20perspective.
Mcleod, S. (2020, March 20). Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Retrieved November 11, 2020. https://www.simplypsychology.org/maslow.html