Maslow in the Context of Leadership and Employee Engagement by Shea Heaver

In 1943 Abraham Maslow first brought his Hierarchy of Needs theory to the world in which he looks at what motivates individuals.

He claimed that people are motivated by things and circumstance that range from basic survival up through up to the ability to reach and achieve one's full potential.

That sounds like something which could be applied in the workplace to elevate employee's motivation from simply being there to get a paycheck all the way up to performing at a very high level...

...and actually, enjoy doing it.

Usually depicted by the pyramid on the right, Maslow's human psychological needs are

  • Physiological – air, food, shelter, sleep, etc...
  • Safety – security, order, law, stability, etc...
  • Belonging/Social – family, affection, friends, relationships, etc...
  • Esteem – achievement, recognition, independence, responsibility, etc...
  • Self-Actualization – realizing potential, self-fulfillment, seeking growth, peak experiences, etc...

In the context of increasing employee engagement and facilitating leadership development, it is possible to take each of these high-level essentials and transpose them into an employee-centric model.

The graphic and narrative below shows how Maslow's 5 tiers can be mapped to 5 mindsets that individual employees (and by association their teams) can be encouraged to strive for within the workplace.



Highly disengaged and dissatisfied employees don't feel part of anything, have minimal commitment and are usually only there to be seen and collect a paycheck – after all that is a basic requirement with any job. Because they have no emotional connection they usually take more days off, probably don't like their boss, are disingenuous to their colleagues and would likely jump at the chance of a new job. In extreme cases, they may be purposely hurting the business.

Much of this disengagement can be remedied by finding out the employee's pain points.

Perhaps they don't think their contribution is valued, or there is perpetual conflict within their team, or there is no opportunity to express themselves.


An individual who is able to begin building better working relationships with their boss and co-workers, will start to feel accepted at work...but only so far as to get the job done. There may still be a hesitancy to come forward with ideas and suggestions because they feel their input will not matter or (even worse) be scoffed at.

To get beyond this need/mindset is usually a big step as it involves a commitment to gauging and improving levels of openness, motivation, feedback and more at the individual and team level.


When we begin to feel included we open up to others and their differing opinions, traits and skills. This is done by communicating with each other in a manner that the other party is comfortable with and doesn't feel threatened by. This fosters a culture of proactive feedback, not just between the boss and the employee but also throughout the team.

At this point the unit starts working well together, harnessing differences in the pursuit of outcomes and solutions that deliver projects successfully, improve sales quotas, elevate customer service levels, etc...


As employees begin to feel more valued by leadership and peers, their levels of self-esteem and trust in those around them increases dramatically. There is an ethos of openness among the team and management understand the individual motivators of each employee (some like to work alone while others prefer the hustle of working in a group and while one person may like public recognition another might prefer a private 'thank-you' moment)

High levels of belief (in self, team members and management) helps drive motivation which in turn powers increased performance. Individuals now start exhibiting leadership traits as they inspire those around them – purposely and sub-consciously.


Top of the pyramid performers want to be empowered to act on their own and have their actions influence and inspire others. They seek opportunities to better themselves and those around them for individual and team success.

They may not necessarily need to be put in a 'position' of leadership, but because they both trust and are trusted they are seen as leaders within the organization.

Successful teams and organizations are rife with leaders...not in the sense of a job title but though an engaged culture and by the way things get done.

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There are many models, theories and the like that can be applied to individuals, teams and organizations seeking to improve leadership and engagement. The most important thing is to systematically measure and improve what is important to your individuals, teams and organization.

The one underlying element in any of these improvement initiatives is that it is focused on and is driven by a sense of belonging and relationships...which ironically is right at the half-way point in Maslow's hierarchy.

This article first appeared in Business2Community and The Business Transformation Network has posted this article in partnership with Shea


Shea Heaver was born in England but grew up, was educated and started his career in Northern Ireland before moving to South Florida in the mid 1990s.

Drawing on his years of management experience in the global IT field, he became a passionate promoter of a people-centric culture to improve organizational performance.  Through his work in the US, Canada, Europe, Asia, etc... he increasingly realized that individuals who feel valued lead to teams that are motivated, innovative and highly productive.

He founded Satisfaction At Work, with a focus on helping organizations achieve higher Employee Engagement, improve Leadership, increase Job Satisfaction and build better Workplace Relationships.