Maslow's Theory of Motivation: Driving Your Teams to Success

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Pyramid

In relation to motivation, Maslow stated that each level in the hierarchy must be substantially satisfied before the next level is activated and again once those needs are met, one might not necessarily be further motivated. The next level in the hierarchy will be dominant only post fulfillment satisfaction level. This theory has a lot of implications specific to managers.

He classified these five needs into two broad categories as higher-order needs and lower-order needs.

The basic needs including physiological, safety and belonging needs were classified as lower-order whereas esteem and actualization as higher-order- only as logical and incongruence to common sense. The distinction between these two categories was made on a single premise, irrespective of whether a person assigns much importance to the internal or even external factors.

In regard to application of Maslow’s hierarchy to organizations, the lowest-order needs may be that of the salary or compensation provided to employees. Most people join organizations at lower levels as trainees to get work experience.

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These people have to satisfy their physiological needs primarily. As soon as they have learned their work, they look at fulfilling their safety needs. Safety needs will include seniority and security in the job. They aspire to complete their probationary period successfully and be confirmed in the organization. Once they are confirmed, they need to belong to a friendly workgroup and widen their circle of friends at work which is only natural. Having acquired all this, they will like to be recognized for their work to fulfill their ego/esteem needs or the need for status and promotion.

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The highest is the need for self-actualization, which is the need for the achievement of things consonant with one’s self-image. Most employees do not reach the self-actualization stage, as they get busy fulfilling their esteem needs by performing well and getting promotions. Maslow’s theory has made a very valuable contribution in drawing attention to the lower order needs, which may be neglected in some organizations. Yet, should these needs not be satisfied, the higher-order needs may not be operative. The limitation of this theory, however, lies in that in no organization do the higher-order needs await the satisfaction of lower-order needs. In most likeliness, all needs operate simultaneously.

The theory of motivation implicitly distinguishes between the need acquired by self-actualization and development. This distinction was dramatically sharpened by Herzberg, whose theory for work motivation widely known, applied and discussed. It is called the ‘two factor’ theory as he elaborates two main cases of deficit and developmental needs.

Using the critical incident technique, Herzberg collected data about people’s satisfaction or dissatisfaction with their jobs. The analysis of this data led him to propose two sets of needs- one set lead to dissatisfaction if they were not met- the other set provided positive satisfaction if they were met. He proposed a two factor theory. He classified the various factors, including those preventing and promoting satisfaction, what he called hygiene and motivators.

Herzberg’s Two Factor Theory Illustration

According to Herzberg, preventing or reducing dissatisfaction in the work situation is not the same as providing positive satisfaction. These two are qualitatively different aspects of work motivation. By this viewpoint, motivation can only be provided if motivators are used in the work situation in addition to hygiene factors.

However, there has been several criticism of Herzberg’s theory, mostly directed at his methodology saying that his theory is method bound. Nonetheless, his contribution to work motivation has been noteworthy. In the 1970’s, many empirical studies did not support Herzberg’s et al., (1950) job satisfaction theory (e.g. Hulin, 1971; Wernimont, 1966; Korman, 1971) and some studies even criticized this theory (Locke, 1976) as impractical because differentiating between motivator and hygiene and factors is tedious since it is correlated.

In addition, Waters and Waters (1972) who performed an empirical study to support Herzberg’s two-factor theory concluded that fulfilled motivator needs have more tendencies to result in job satisfaction and that job satisfaction can be more easily predicted than job dissatisfaction. Meanwhile, Kerr, Harlan, and Stogdill (1974) have claimed that Herzberg’s theory is more than an error in attributing satisfaction to motivator and dissatisfaction to hygiene factors. Among all criticisms of the two-factor theory, one of Locke’s (1976) has grabbed much attention in the literature.

Based on their review of several Indian studies using Herzberg’s methodology, Roy and Raja (1977) have tentatively concluded that the evidence of the two factor theory of job satisfaction is equivocal. The Herzbegian thesis that job satisfaction and dissatisfaction represent two different continua finds support in most of the studies. On the other hand, motivators and hygiene factors have generally been found to influence both satisfaction and dissatisfaction in a mixed fashion. While intrinsic factors, for instance- job content, promotion and growth contribute to dissatisfaction, extrinsic factors like security, coworker relations and friendliness of superiors contribute to satisfaction. It appears that the higher-order needs of even managers found them equally divided in terms of lower and higher-order needs; the order of needs was related directly to the level of management and inversely to age.

Herzberg’s theory of work motivation has led to ‘job enrichment’ programs, entailing redesigning of jobs. It attempts to build more motivators into a job. The theory states incentives and high salaries alone are not enough to motivate employees, as organizations need to recognize their employee’s work and create opportunities for growth.

Despite its past popularity, it is unfortunate that there is little empirical support for the hierarchy of needs and motivator-hygiene approaches. Although, it is difficult to deny that motivating factors influence surrounding environments and has an impact on how satisfied employees are in their work as which personality factors do not fully explain job satisfaction. Consequently, Furnham et al. (2009) integrated Herzberg’s motivator-hygiene approach alongside personality to better understand the combined impact on job satisfaction. Findings revealed that demographic variables and scores on the five commonly used personality traits including openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism together accounted for a significant portion of job satisfaction (Golshan, Nargess, Kaswuri, Wan & Wan, Khairuzzaman, 2019).

A psychologist Alderfer, further expanded and proposed a modified version of Maslow’s needs hierarchy and labeled it ERG theory- referring to three core groups of needs namely Existence, Relatedness and Growth.

Existence needs are all the various forms of physiological and material desires such as hunger thirst and shelter. In organizational settings, the need for pay, benefits, and physical working conditions are also included in this category, as it compares to Maslow’s basic need criteria.

Relatedness needs include all those that involve interpersonal relationships with others within the workplace. This type of need in a person depends on the process of sharing and mutuality of feelings between others to attain satisfaction, as it is similar to Maslow’s safety social and certain ego-esteem needs.

Growth needs involve a person’s effort toward creative or personal growth on the job. The satisfaction of growth needs results from an individual engaging in tasks that not only require the person’s full use of his/her capabilities but may require the development of new capabilities. Maslow’s self-actualization model and certain ego esteem needs are comparable to growth needs.

The ERG theory implies two sets of views on individual’s aspirations and fulfillment. One is satisfaction- progression and the other is frustration-regression. Satisfaction progression is similar to Maslow’s model in which once an individual’s basic needs are satisfied, they will progress to the next level to satisfy the succeeding higher level to have those satisfied. He proposed yet another view of a person’s happiness. It elaborated that should people eventually become frustrated in trying to satisfy their needs at one level, their next lower level needs will re-emerge and they will regress to the lower level to satisfy more basic needs. This is known as frustration- regression.

As for managers, the ERG theory provides a more workable approach to motivation in an organization, due to the frustration- regression approach. It provides the manager with opportunities for directing employee behavior in a constructive manner even though higher-order needs are temporarily frustrated. In summation, ERG theory argues that satisfied lower-order needs lead to the desire to satisfy higher-order needs hence organizations should aim to satisfy lower-order needs satisfactorily prior to providing added benefits and incentives altogether.

Another theory using the expectations hypothesis has been put forward by Smith and Cranny. According to them, work motivation can be explained in terms of interaction among three major variables that are effort, satisfaction, and rewards.

In accordance with this theory, there are two main types of persons- intrinsically and extrinsically motivated people. Each individual evaluates a situation and responds to it according to their frame of reference. Thereby an intrinsically motivated person will perform for self-satisfaction or achievement and will be motivated by intrinsic motivators such as the interest of the work, nature of the job, responsibility, competence, actual performance etcetera. Should they perceive that they are working due to extrinsic reasons like the pay or working conditions, they may begin to loose motivation. Others might be motivated by extrinsic factors including pay, promotions, feedback, working conditions basically things that come from a person’s environment, often controlled by others.

In congruence, the presence of powerful extrinsic motivators can actually reduce a person’s intrinsic motivation, particularly if the extrinsic motivators are perceived by the person to be controlled by people. In other words, a boss/employer who is always dangling this reward or that stick will eventually turn off the intrinsically motivated by people.

As with all these theories briefly discussed, Reinforcement theory is based on Skinner’s concept of shaping behavior by controlling the consequences of behavior. A combination of rewards and/or punishments is used to reinforce desired behavior or extinguish unwanted behavior. Individuals can choose from several responses that have been associated with positive outcomes in the past. Generally speaking, there are two types of reinforcements: positive and negative. Positive reinforcements result when the desired behavior, in the case of great job performance would be followed by the valued consequence serving as the reward. Each specific consequence of behavior is called a ‘reinforcer’. Through using positive reinforcers generally desired behavior are promoted.

Adams Equity theory posits that a variety of subtle factors affect employee’s assessment and perception of relationships with their work and supervisors. Motivation is essentially the function of ‘perceived equity’- which is the perceived fairness of receiving output after much input and recognition in relation to the outcome. Equity is simply a person’s belief as regards being treated fairly relative to their inputs and relative to the treatments of others. There can be negative or positive equity.

In addition, as stated motivational factors for jobs can be seen from a two or bi-dimensional manner, both extrinsically as well as intrinsically (Rose, 2001). The intrinsic sources are largely based on personal and individual characteristics including the means to utilize relations with supervisors, have initiative, and actual job performance per se, as these are all qualitative facets of a given job. On the other hand, extrinsic sources are usually dependent on the environment as with security, promotion, and pay since these are all rewards of an extrinsic job whether financial or other fringe benefits. Likewise, whilst considering overall job satisfaction, both facets must be included for a composite measure.

When satisfied in one’s job, a worker experiences feelings of content, gratification, and fulfillment by their work. It is the attitude generally adopted towards one’s job. Whilst employed in organizations, workers develop a set of attitudes about their work, supervision, co-workers, working conditions, and so on, which account a great deal in levels of job satisfaction.

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Maslow's Theory of Motivation: Driving Your Teams to Success. (2020, Nov 22). Retrieved from

Maslow's Theory of Motivation: Driving Your Teams to Success

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