Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Cite this article as:"Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs," in The Business Professor, updated April 9, 2020, last accessed October 29, 2020,


What is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs?

Psychologist Abraham Maslow proposed the hierarchy of needs. He presented the needs as a pyramid representing the evolution of needs in a hierarchy. That is, individuals seek to meet lower-level needs before moving on to higher-level needs.

At the bottom of the pyramid is “Basic Human Needs”. Once these are satisfied, we then begin to look for higher-order needs. The hierarchy proceeds as follows:

  • Physiological needs – These are the basic needs to sustain life – air, food, and water.
  • Safety – This is the need to be free from danger, pain, or loss.
  • Social – Social needs are synonymous with relationship needs. They concern the need to interact with other humans, to form relationships, and share emotions.
  • Esteem – Esteem concerns the desire to feel important and appreciated by others.
  • Self-actualization – This concerns improving one’s self by acquiring new skills, taking on new challenges, and behaving in a way that will lead to the satisfaction of one’s life goals. In summary, it is “becoming all you are capable of becoming.”

An individual may experience a combination of these needs at any time. This is because they affect different aspects (physical and mental) of the individual.

Understanding an individual’s need structure allows a leader to understand what will motivate an individual to pursue a course of conduct that will satisfy those needs.

For example, a person’s physiological needs may be met simply through compensation. Safety may be met by job security. Social needs may be met by having a family, friends, or other routine acquaintances (such as close colleagues). A person’s esteem needs are more likely to require meaningful work, authority or power, recognition, or status. Self-actualization is the most difficult as it requires the individual be afforded the opportunity to move forward in their own direction.

Any of these scenarios may be within the authority of the leader to provide – thus allowing the leader to motivate the subordinate.

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