Maslow in the Workplace

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It seems the above infographic has been floating around for at least a year. (Unfortinately, I haven’t yet found an attribution to it’s creator.)  It applies Maslow’s Hierachy of Needs to employee engagement in the workplace.

I am a fan of Maslow’s Hierarchy.  I think it is a powerful model that captures the impact of our circumstances on our motivation – including our ability and desire to learn.  As I reflected in as if i needed proof on eelearning in 2007, my conviction that Maslow got this right is not just theoretical.

A key component of Maslow’s Hierachy represented below, is that it is that an individual is incapable of meeting higher level needs if their needs at lower levels are not being met.  Meaning, if you are in need of food and water to survive, you are very unlikely going to be capable of building

relationships and have no self-esteem or confidence.  In the opposite direction, if a person has their physiological needs met and they feel safe and secure, they can then focus on building relationships.

Overall, I really like the application to employee engagement, I have one major issue with it and a few minor nit picks.

My major issue has to do with the characterization of Maslow’s Physiological Level.   Anyone who has a income generating job is by definition at least at Safety Level.  Not liking your job may or how much you make is not a physiological threat.  So any correlation to employee engagement should begin with the Safety Level.  The engagement labels betray this as “Disengaged” and “Not Engaged” have the same meaning.

Now the nit picks.  Usually the Hierarchy is presented with only the labels for the levels – no numbers.  When numbers are used, it is always opposite of what this model uses.  Physiological is Level 1, Self-Actualization is Level 5.

Some of the statements that represent employees’ expression of their level of engagement are in the wrong level (I know I’m part of something bigger would be better placed in Importance).  Some are inauthentic to what employees might say or think (I’m almost engaged but there are time when I’m not).

So here are my thoughts on rewriting the employee engagement descriptors:

Physiological – Disengaged : This level doesn’t apply to employee engagement

Security – Not Engaged

  • I need to polish up my resume
  • At least I have a paycheck and benefits
  • Upper Management doesn’t have a clue of what we do
  • I don’t feel like going to work so let me call in sick
  • I’m out of here as soon as I can find another job

Love/Belonging – Almost Engaged

  • I enjoy my work, but I’m not sure where we’re headed as a company
  • The only thing that makes working here bearable are the people I work with
  • I’m not looking to move, but if the right offer came along……
  • My boss is awesome.  If it weren’t for her though, I don’t think I’d stay
  • It’s a good place to work

Importance – Engaged

  • I know I’m part of something that is bigger than any of us
  • I understand how my role contributes to the company’s success
  • I’ve been promoted
  • I’m responsible for leading others
  • My ideas are valued by those I work with
  • I’m proud to tell my friends I work here


  • I’m so fortunate to have found my calling in life
  • While challenges are everywhere, I’m fortunate to know that the direction we set for the company is driving results
  • I feel like this is the place I was meant to be
  • I’m a mentor and resource for people throughout my division

What do you think?  Please add suggestions or critiques of the above in the comments section below.

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