How Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs can transform your employee engagement strategy
23 March 2023
HR professionals have plenty on their plates, navigating hybrid and remote working, retaining talent, and providing critical support during the cost-of-living crisis. Not to mention brainstorming new employee engagement ideas! Your business and workforce are unique, but some theories on employee engagement and motivation have stood the test of time. During this blog, we'll explain how you can use Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs to enhance employee engagement activities in your business.
Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs Explained
When Abraham Maslow created his Hierarchy of Needs, he argued that humans are motivated by five essential needs: physiological, safety, social, self-esteem and self-actualisation (also known as self-fulfilment).
At the bottom of the pyramid are our physiological needs, such as food, water, sleep, and warmth. Safety concerns come next, including comfort, security, and stability. Moving up the pyramid, we come to social needs, such as a sense of belonging and friendships, and esteem needs, such as a positive self-image, prestige, and status. Then, at the top, we have self-actualisation, which is about feeling fulfilled through growth, advancement, and creativity.
Using the theory to unleash new employee engagement ideas
What does Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs mean for HR professionals, and how can you use it to enhance your employee engagement activities?
Before we can brainstorm new employee engagement ideas, we must dig a little deeper into each level of the pyramid. Once we understand how the hierarchy translates to the workplace, we can consider what employee engagement activities will significantly impact each level.
Psychological needs in the workplace include the security of having a job, getting a regular salary, and having a comfortable working environment. It’s the most basic level, including facilities, amenities - even a kitchen and a space to make drinks.
Having a job may be a psychological need, but a formal employment contract, with pensions, sick pay, and employee benefits, is considered a safety need. Physical safety plays a role here, too, which is where health and safety – a safe working environment – form part of the level.
There is a social element to being at work. It’s why 10% of hybrid workers want to return to a fully remote work model. Relationships can blossom in the workplace. It’s also about that human-to-human connection you don’t always feel when speaking to people on a screen while you’re alone in your home.
Self-esteem is incredibly personal. People can mask self-esteem and confidence, appearing to cope when they may be silently struggling. The workplace has a significant effect on employees’ self-esteem, having the ability to strengthen and weaken it, depending on the circumstances.
The concept of self-actualisation is different for every employee since each will have personal goals and ambitions. For some, it may just be maintaining their safety needs – having a stable and secure role. Others will aim to progress to new heights within their career.
Harness your employee engagement ideas to stay on track!
Two steps forward…
It’s essential to keep the lowest two levels of psychological and safety needs in mind when brainstorming employee engagement ideas. Employees must achieve those levels before they can move up the pyramid. Employees who cannot fulfil those levels in your organisation will likely become disengaged and look for new opportunities.
Two steps back…
Maslow’s theory isn’t static. The parts are always moving. An employee moving up the pyramid levels could slip back down if you cannot continue to satisfy their needs. Our external environment also plays a role. For example, the cost-of-living crisis has increased financial anxiety, which could see employees focus on their safety needs.
Adapt your employee engagement ideas to meet evolving needs!
Maslow also introduced the idea that our needs constantly change: as one need is met, we desire the level above it. The pay rise we received last year won’t motivate us for the next five years, the recognition award we presented two years ago won’t satisfy our current needs for appreciation, and the training course we did three years ago won’t fulfil our need to be learning new skills and knowledge now.
Why does employee engagement matter?
We’ve discussed the theory and how we can use it to expand our employee engagement ideas without touching on the benefits of engaged employees.
Why are employee engagement ideas and employee engagement strategies so important?
Businesses with a highly engaged workforce will benefit from 21% greater profitability and 59% less employee turnover.
More motivated and productive employees who you’ll more easily retain… do we need to say more about why high levels of employee engagement benefit your business?
Employee engagement ideas and activities
You understand how each level of the pyramid links to the workplace, so now we’ll explore employee engagement ideas you can embed at each level.
Surveys are the best friend of your employee engagement strategies. Use them to help define where you are on your journey and which employee engagement activities will positively impact your people.
For the psychological level, use surveys to understand what facilities and amenities your people need from you.
There are laws to follow regarding your employees’ mental and physical safety, so we don’t need to spend time on that here.
Employee benefits form part of your workforce’s safety needs. Let’s consider the cost-of-living crisis and how employees and wages must work harder than ever. Employee benefits that stretch salaries further alleviate the financial burden, thus enhancing the feeling of safety.
We tell you everything you need to know about employee benefits and how they can enhance your employee engagement strategies here.
Employees crave connection, with over half planning to split their time evenly between one and the office.
Whether at home or in the office, encouraging social connection should be part of your employee engagement activities. Surveys and polls are great for gathering employee engagement ideas. Use them to discover what your people will enjoy doing most, whether that’s a quiz, activity day or a meal out.
Add training managers to be empathetic leaders to your employee engagement strategies. Self-esteem is personal, so effective management is essential.
Brushing off an employee’s lack of confidence is damaging. Hear what they're saying and explore the words left unspoken.
Add external agencies that host team activities to your list of employee engagement ideas. Especially those that assess personality traits since they help managers better understand their people and employees embrace their unique strengths.
Your reward and recognition strategy is pivotal at this stage and should be a consistent part of your employee engagement activities.
Employee engagement activities connect with your learning and development strategies at this stage. Employees require personal development plans, training, secondments, mentoring, and promotion opportunities to achieve their goals at the highest pyramid level.
Bringing the pyramid to life through employee engagement activities
You now understand why Maslow’s theories stand the test of time and how you can use them to explore new employee engagement ideas.
From training and development opportunities, moments of joy, and employee benefits that open up a world of opportunities – aligning your employee engagement activities to your people and business needs is the key to growth and success.
If you’re looking for more employee engagement ideas, explore these blogs. We’ll help you boost motivation, attract and retain talent, reward with meaning and harness the power of your employee engagement strategies.
Arrange a call with one of our consultants to enhance employee engagement in your business today, tomorrow, and beyond!