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Maslow Motivation Theory

The Hierarchy of Needs

The Maslow motivation theory is one of the best known and most influential theories on workplace motivation.

Psychologist Abraham Maslow first developed his famous theory of individual development and motivation in the 1940’s. He suggested that human beings have a hierarchy of needs. That is, that all humans act in a way which will address basic needs, before moving on to satisfy other, so-called higher level needs.

Maslow represented this theory as a hierarchical triangle. This shows how basic needs must be met before one can “climb” the hierarchy, to address more complex needs.

For example, first one must meet the basic, physiological need for food, water and warmth. After that the focus would be on the need to be safe, then the need to belong to social groups, and so on up the hierarchy.

The important thing to recognize is Maslow’s contention that one’s sense of well-being. i.e. the ‘feelgood factor’ increases as the higher level needs are met.

Do you want to know the essentials of Maslow Motivation Theory in a minute? This is one of our Manage in a Minute pages. These contain essential tips on fundamental management topics.

No fuss or side-tracks, they get straight to the point. Here, in a series of bullet points which can be read in a minute (ish!)., are some essentials ways to understand motivation in the workplace.


Maslow Motivation Theory:

the Hierarchy of Needs

The Maslow motivation theory is typically represented by 5 steps:

  • Physiological needs – such as hunger, thirst and sleep
  • Safety needs – such as security, protection from danger and freedom from pain.
  • Social needs – sometimes also referred to as love needs such as friendship, giving and receiving love, engaging in social activities and group membership.
  • Esteem needs – these include both self-respect and the esteem of others. For example, the desire for self-confidence and achievement, and recognition and appreciation.
  • Self-actualization – This is about the desire to develop and realize your full potential. To become everything you can be.
Maslow Motivation Theory

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs


Maslow believed that human beings have a strong desire to reach their full potential. In his own words:

“a man’s desire for self-fulfilment, namely the tendency for him to become actually in what he is potentially: to become everything that one is capable of being….”

Understanding Maslow’s Needs Hierarchy

To understand Maslow’s thinking it’s worth noting some of his main assertions:

  • Broadly, as one set of needs is met, the next level of needs become more of a motivator to an individual.
  • A satisfied need is not a motivator.
  • Only unsatisfied needs motivate an individual. We have an innate desire to work our way up the hierarchy, pursuing satisfaction in higher order needs.
  • Self-actualization stimulates a desire for more due to what Maslow explained as “peak experiences”.

If you have the time, you may like to read more on this topic, for example about peak performance and flow. Or you may find it useful to look at the detailed discussions in some of our related articles on Workplace Motivation.

Still pressed for time? Follow this link for the full list of Manage in a Minute pages.


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