Intrinsic Motivation at Work through Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Like us, psychologist Abraham Maslow was obsessed with getting to the root of intrinsic motivation. He wanted to know: Why did some people achieve personal fulfillment, and others lived on, half-satisfied, beneath their potential? What encouraged the necessary leap into action when taking ownership of one’s dreams?

After closely studying legends, like Albert Einstein, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Frederick Douglass, Maslow concluded that, within every individual’s lifespan lies a universal goal: self-actualization.

It looks as if there were a single ultimate goal for mankind, a far goal toward which all persons strive. This is called variously by different authors self-actualization, self-realization, integration, psychological health, individuation, autonomy, creativity, productivity, but they all agree that this amounts to realizing the potentialities of the person, that is to say, becoming fully human, everything that person can be.

— Maslow

Basically, Maslow decided that, “If you deliberately set out to be less than you are capable, you’ll be unhappy for the rest of your life.”

He created the famous hierarchy of needs, labeling “self-actualization” as the highest pillar. Before self-actualization, one needed to achieve the “lesser” needs, like basic physical comfort, safety, social integration, and esteem.

In short — there’s an inherent need for health, protection, security, love, and respect before living one’s fullest potential.

A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write, if he is to be ultimately at peace with himself. What a man can be, he must be.

— Maslow


What this teaches us about motivation in the workplace

Too often, employers do not take the science of human needs into account when considering how to motivate their employees. They may cater to lower needs, like security (or fear of losing it). But this only might work for a few months before fizzling out, leaving employees as disengaged as they started.

That’s because, as Maslow suggests, humans require personal growth (or transformation into their highest capability) through continuous risk and change.  “One can choose to go back toward safety,” he said, “or [move] forward toward growth. Growth must be chosen again and again; fear must be overcome again and again.”

Creating an atmosphere at work that encourages this personal growth, fulfillment, and self-actualization might just be the key in truly motivating employees on all levels. A self-realized employee, one who consistently makes use of inner talent and creativity, in (personally) new and exciting ways, makes advancements for the company — but also for herself.


Motivation starts here

Once companies integrate Maslow’s psychology into their workplace with a system that celebrates individual talents and achievements (like, ahem, a recognition rewards-based employee engagement platform) employees will be more likely to become her own Einstein or Roosevelt.

Imagine what an office full of legends could do for your company. What’s the risk?

Learn More