In the year 1943, an American psychologist named Abraham Maslow wrote a paper titled “A Theory of Human Motivation” in Psychological Review magazine. In the paper, Maslow decoded human development psychology, by classifying different layers of the growth experienced by a human mind.
The paper created ripples across the country, as economists and industrialists realized how powerful Maslow’s theory is. Such was the impact that in 1954, he published a whole book on his theory, called ‘Psychology & Motivation’.
What Is Maslow’s Hierarchy Of Needs?
The base of Maslow’s theory was a pyramid, which he called ‘Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs’, wherein the needs of a human being were categorized from lower to a higher order. The lowest level of the hierarchy was devoted to physiological needs such as food, water and air. As per the theory, unless the most basic, physiological needs are met, the human being cannot function.
Once these needs are met, the person needs the second layer of requirements, which Maslow called safety layer. Personal security, job security, health, and fitness formed the major components of this layer.
Once these are achieved, the person moves to the third layer of needs, termed as Love/Belonging by Maslow. In this layer, the person seeks love and affection from family and co-workers.
Self-esteems form the next layer, wherein the person seeks self-respect from his contemporaries.
Once this layer of needs is achieved, the person seeks Self-actualization, which is the ultimate need for a person, as per Maslow. And Self-actualization can only be achieved when all the other needs such as physiological, love, self-respect, and self-esteem are acquired.
Exploitation of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs by Managers
After Maslow published the hierarchy of needs in the form of a book about motivation, managers and entrepreneurs started using the theory for controlling their employees.
And, it worked for few years as well. The reason was, Maslow published the book in 1943, when World War 2 was about to end, and the USA had witnessed destruction of a massive scale. Jobs were scarce, and the economy was down.
Due to the scarcity effect, this motivation theory worked. If an employee was threatened with ‘Do this job by 9 PM, or else, you are fired’, then the management actually exploited the very basic security need of the human being. The threat directly hit the employee’s basic need of security, and he worked like a madman.
However, with the introduction of knowledge age and the connected economy, Maslow’s motivation theory falls flat. There isn’t any war out there, and there is no scarcity of jobs and connections in this Internet-connected world.
But sadly, 95% of managers still use Maslow’s outdated theory of motivation to ‘control’ and ‘manipulate’ employees, even now. Maybe this is the reason for high attrition rates in some IT companies and the reason why despite having an excellent, earth-shattering product or service, a modern day company fails to grow and expand.
3 Practical Ways to Motivate an Employee
As per modern theories of motivation, in a knowledge-based, connected economy, employees simply cannot be motivated or pushed to work by threatening basic needs, which Maslow proposed.
The real change makers, the one who introduce innovation and disruption, simply cannot be reigned in, controlled by factors which dominated the 1940s and 1950s.
Here are three practical and realistic ways to motivate an employee, which completely defies Maslow’s Theory:
Autonomy: The Freedom to Make a Choice & Own It
This is 2017, and the biggest motivation which an employer from any industry or niche can give to their employees is freedom and autonomy. The very basic need today is not food and security, but the ability to make a choice, and the power to own that decision.
Instead of devising incentives based on competition and performance (aka Maslow’s Need for Financial Security), the employer should provide the employee with the power to take crucial decisions, and then ask them to be accountable to it. Instead of dictating what has to be done, and where, the employer should ask the employee to create their own goals and aspirations, and the blueprint to achieve them.
The freedom to make a choice is the biggest motivation which a modern knowledge worker can get. And employers should actually use it vehemently.
Purpose: The Need to Connect With a Mission
Today’s employees are less bothered about the paycheck. What they really seek is a purpose. The question of ‘Why’ is asked more and more in today’s interconnected economy, rather than ‘How’.
The employee will be motivated if he or she is able to ‘relate’ to the job, and this can only happen when that employee discovers the purpose. The foundation of today’s motivation theory is not some arbitrary requirement of food and shelter, but the need to know the purpose and definition of life.
This is actually an opportunity for today’s hotshot entrepreneurs and leaders, but they waste it. Instead of forcing false competition between two employees, in the hope of deriving maximum output, the leader should ask employee’s opinion on a particular project and enquire whether they are able to relate to the work.
Instead of cursing the employee and threatening the security of the job, the leader should strive to understand what are the key strengths of that employee and whether their values are property, optimally utilized in the organization.
Movement: The Desire to Learn & Grow With Others
The Internet is providing an ocean of information, but the pearls of wisdom and knowledge is what is desired. Although traditional education model provides the best classrooms and the shiniest tablets for learning, but what really is desired by a youth is the practical knowledge and experience.
And this leads to the third most important pillar for motivation: Movement.
Today’s employees are yearning for more knowledge, more learning, and more traction. And leaders can actually use this need and desire to motivate them.
An incentive of a free pizza for accomplishing a particular task holds no value, compared to the promise of a new course or a new book for the successful employee. The pizza solves the Maslow’s basic needs theory, but the book and the training promise movement, progress and dynamism for the knowledge worker.
Instead of asking ‘What did you achieve today’, the leader should ask, ‘What did you learn today?’
Motivation is no doubt important, and it will always be. But the theories of motivation have changed. And the leader and the entrepreneur should realize that following Maslow’s theories of motivation, all he or she will create is an army of human machines.
What they need is an army of knowledge workers who are free to make a choice, aware of their purpose, and always on the move with more knowledge and more experience.