Maslow’s Hierarchy Of Needs

 Basic Business Cents

In our last column, we wrote about Stephen Covey’s five needs that are fundamental to human fulfillment. They are, “to live, to love, to learn, and to leave a legacy.” They might ring a bell with some of you who vaguely remember once studying a pyramid representing Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. It was sectioned into five layers with the more basic needs at the bottom.


Self-actualization                                                                                                                                                                         Esteem                                                                                                                                                                        Love & belonging                                                                                                                        Safety                                                                                                                                    Physiological


Abraham Maslow in his paper of 1943 presented the results of his research describing the growth in humans. Maslow’s theory suggests that the most basic level of needs must be met before the individual will strongly desire the higher level of needs.

Physiological needs are literally the requirements for human survival. Air, water, and food are requirements without which we cannot survive. Clothing and shelter are necessary to protect us from the elements. Until these needs are answered, humans or other animals have little interest in anything else. Unfortunately, we have people in our society with these needs.

When physical needs are met, people then turn to the next level and safety needs take precedence and dominate behavior. These needs include personal security, financial security, health and well-being, and protection against unforeseen events. In the workplace it would include adequate salary, job security, savings program, retirement and other benefits, and health insurance.

After physiological and safety needs are fulfilled, the third layer of human needs are social and involve feelings of belongingness such as friendship, intimacy, and family. Humans need to feel a sense of belonging and acceptance. This may come from the workplace, social organizations, religious organizations, gangs, partners, sports, or family. We need to love and be loved. Businesses play to this need with loyalty cards, advance notice of sales, advisory boards, and “insider clubs”.

The esteem need pertains to the basic need we have to feel we are contributing to the greater good and are worthwhile. We have a need to be proud of our selves and what we do. A complication on the satisfaction of this need is that low self-esteem, depression, inferiority complex, and other similar maladies must be corrected internally before respect from outsiders will help.

The need for self-actualization is the understanding of what we can be and realizing that we have achieved it; to be everything we are capable of being. This varies from person to person as some might have as their aim to be the very best parent or spouse. Others dream to excel in athletics, art, inventions, writing, etc. What does it take to fulfill our lives? I once visited a small grocery in a tiny rural town. The owner of the store was obviously very bright, outgoing, and eager to talk to this stranger when he discovered that I was a student at the state university. He shared that he had also been a student at the university years before when his father passed away and he had to quit school and return home to run the family store. One could see after all these years that he was still wondering what life might have had in store for him had he been able to finish school. It still pained him to think about it.  For others, a dream of running such a store, interacting with friends and neighbors on a daily basis, and having their other basic needs satisfied might be very fulfilling. We are all different.

What does all this mean to us in our business? Marketing courses teach Maslow’s hierarchy of needs as one of the first theories as a basis for consumers’ motives for action. By understanding the needs of target customers, we can position our products and services to a ready market. We also need to understand the needs of our employees and where they are on the pyramid of needs to enable them to be more proficient at satisfying customers’ needs.

A useful adage for us to follow might be, “He who best understands the needs of his/her customers and employees, and supplies solutions at a fair price, will best satisfy his/her own needs.”