11 January, 2021

Improving Employee Engagement Using Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Framework

Maslow’s Needs Hierarchy is a powerful, holistic roadmap from which one can understand the needs of the modern workforce. With the post-COVID economic slowdown, talent optimization has been a business priority. Maslow’s theory helps with just that- it helps organizations hone talent and improve employee engagement through the right kind of gratification.

Maslow’s theory comprises of a pyramid with 5 levels- Levels 1 and 2 comprise what we call the bare minimum or basic needs of a human being like water, food, shelter, financial security and stability. Levels 3 and 4 are higher-order needs which are more psychological in nature like the need for connection, social status, appreciation and recognition. Maslow’s hierarchy can be rearranged and applied in multiple situations. In the work context, it supports a bi-directional model- a two-way exchange between employee and employer. From the employee’s perspective, it provides a scale through which to measure job satisfaction and move towards increased fulfillment and impact at work. From an organization’s perspective, it helps create a positive work culture which in turn improves motivation, engagement and ultimately, performance.

Most organizations are able to cater to the first 2 levels of needs in the form of an employment contract, office space, financial compensation and benefits. It is levels 3 and 4 where the gap exists. As later researchers such as the American psychologist Frederick Herzberg explained, fair compensation and decent working conditions are just ‘hygiene factors’ that prevent disengagement. In other words, their absence can lead to disengagement but having them in place does not create positive engagement. Hence, organizations need to focus on levels 3 and 4 to improve engagement.

To pursue the twin goals of connection/belonging and self-esteem/recognition, a comprehensive R&R program structured by a robust technical program can help. Having an employee recognition software can ensure timely appreciation for good work in a public, transparent way. This can build self-worth for employees while helping them feel deeply connected to their peers and the organization. A platform like Gratifi can help digitize employee engagement through 360-degree recognition, physical and digital gifts, badges and points-based rewards, virtual social clubs, events, surveys and mood-o-meter. Such a platform can help organizations map employee sentiment while giving data-driven insights through intelligent reports. As well, flexible workflows can help accommodate any changes in R&R strategy as well as organizational hierarchy/workforce.

While Maslow’ hierarchy of needs has proven to hold true for people and cultures around the world, Maslow himself had remarked that the theory describes a general order of needs and can vary for individuals. For example- some people may value emotional connection more than financial security while others can value status and respect more than group associations. Hence it is important for organizations to understand which category of Maslow’s needs pyramid best relates to individual employees and map relevant recognition categories on the R&R platform accordingly. A technical platform can support HR leaders in getting the data they need to personalize and continually iterate their employee engagement program for best results.