A Popeyes employee sent me an email recently. He said he had been working on a school project with his daughter on the Maslow theory of human needs. He wondered if I had considered how this theory applies to the workplace and to servant leadership.
My response – if leaders created workplaces that met the needs of people, the people would be more engaged in their work, and they would perform at a higher level.
In 1943, Abraham Maslow published a theory of how human beings reach their full potential in life. He concluded that we have a hierarchy of needs that must be met in the right order for us to become the people we were intended to be. The theory has both fans and opponents, but it is a useful construct for the workplace.
How Would You Apply Maslow’s Hierarchy At Work?
- Physiological Needs – People need air, water, food and sleep to survive. An obvious observation. You cannot work well without these basic needs being met. Yet, many a time, I have said to an employee, “You need to take a break, get some fresh air, eat lunch, or go home and get some sleep.” People come to work all the time in a state of exhaustion or stress. They need to be reminded to take care of themselves. Some need permission to rest and recover. Are you checking on the physiological needs of your people at work?
- Safety & Security – People need to feel safe and secure. You cannot concentrate on contributing at work if you feel threatened. Yet, many a time, I have met leaders who create fearful, threatening work environments. The worst is the mercurial leader who is different every day, creating constant uncertainty for the people.
- Social Needs – People need to feel a sense of belonging and friendship. We are designed for relationships. Gallup research says that having a best friend at work is essential to peak engagement, yet one of their senior researchers told me that this is one of the most difficult findings for leaders to accept. Why are we so suspicious? When we look back at our best work outcomes, didn’t we feel part of a special group of people? Do you encourage friendships to form at work? Do you build a strong sense of belonging in your teams?
- Self-Esteem – People need to feel respected, appreciated and accomplished. Yet, Gallup research cites that 80% of people have not heard the words thank you in the last seven days at work. I see examples of this daily – where leaders drive achievement of the goals, but fail to tell the people how essential they are to reaching the goals. Do you let people know that they are respected, appreciated and valued at work.
- Self-Actualization – The pinnacle human need is the need for purpose and meaning. Maslow believed that this place of fulfillment in life can only be reached after the four prior needs are met. As you know from my writing, I believe that people give their best performance at work when they know why they came – when they have a personal purpose for work. But it makes perfect sense to me that people cannot reach this state of fulfillment in life or work if their prior needs are not met. Are you a leader creating a workplace where the people’s needs are met – so that they can reach a place of purpose and meaning in work?
This is the essence of servant leadership – to create a caring workplace that meets the needs of the people, so that they can give their very best to the performance of the enterprise. This is the high and necessary standard for a leader who aspires to serve and to deliver superior performance.