Theory of Motives

Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Theory (1954)

Abraham Maslow, a renowned psychologist, propounded the Need Hierarchy Theory of Motivation which is also known as Theory of Motives. His theory was based on human needs.

Maslow felt that within human being, there exists a hierarchy of five needs which begins with the basic need of physiological well-being and goes up to realization of one’s potential. These needs are physiological, safety, social, esteem, and self-actualization, as shown below in the Figure.

Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Theory
Figure: Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Theory

Maslow separated these five needs into higher and lower levels. Physiological and safety needs were described as lower-order needs and love, esteem and self-actualization as higher order needs.

The differentiation between the two orders being that while lower order needs are satisfied externally by things such as wages, the higher order needs are satisfied internally to the person. These needs are described as follows:

  1. Physiological needs include basic needs related to the survival and maintenance of human life. Hunger, thirst, shelter, sleep, sex and other bodily needs are examples of these needs at the individual level.

    In most cases, these needs have highest strength and intensity. An individual cannot perceive any other type of needs unless these needs are fulfilled to the extent required for satisfactory operations of the body.

    A man on the verge of starvation has no thought other than that of food. In the organizational context, basic salary helps to satisfy these needs.
  2. Safety needs imply security and protection from physical and emotional harm, e.g., protection against risks of job and security of employment, safety of personal life and property, protection against fire, accident, etc.

    Essentially, these needs are to be free from physical danger and deprivation of physiological needs. These are needs for self-preservation and assurance for tomorrow.

    In the organizational context, stability of income, pension plans, etc., help to satisfy these needs. However, over-provision of these needs is harmful as it makes people careless and defenseless. It is a fact that permanency of government jobs is resulting in low productivity.
  3. Social needs include affection, belongingness, acceptance and friendship. These are needs to be accepted by group and be a part of it. Everyone looks for a meaningful relationship and to live in harmony with others.

    As a social being, man has need of association (to love and be loved), desire to conform to group norms and contribute to its goals. In the organizational context, belongingness, recognition, cordial relations with colleagues, etc., help to satisfy theses needs. This forms the basis of team spirit and group cohesiveness in any organization.
  4. Esteem needs include internal factors such as self-respect, autonomy and achievement and external factors such as status, recognition and attention. These needs include:

    Internal esteem needs such as self-respect, autonomy and achievement. These are the needs for high self-evaluation (we are worthy).

    External esteem needs: such as status, recognition/respect and attention.

    Satisfaction of these needs produces feelings of self-confidence, prestige, power and control. People begin to feel that they are useful and have some effect on environment (growth-seeking).

    In the organizational context, autonomy status, recognition, etc., help to satisfy these needs. Non-fulfillment of these needs results in destructive behavior to draw attention of others. Immature arguments with co-workers are one such example.
  5. Self-actualization needs are the needs of the highest order. They are concerned with becoming what a person is capable of becoming. After satisfying the first four needs, man wants to maximize the use of his skills, abilities and potentials in his occupation (reaching the ultimate—the zenith) or realize one’s own potentialities, objectives, growth in career development, etc.

    Satisfying these needs gives a sense of self-fulfillment. In the organizational context, these needs are fulfilled by achievement of goals.

The Importance of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs Theory

Maslow’s need hierarchy theory is fundamental to understanding of motivation. The essence of the theory tries to prove that the needs lower in the hierarchy have to be fulfilled, even if partially, before the higher needs become active. So, as each need is substantially satisfied, the next need in the hierarchy becomes dominant.

Interestingly, higher-order needs like social, self-esteem and self-actualization are satisfied internally whereas lower needs are satisfied externally.

Maslow’s theory makes sense in the industrial situation and in motivational aspects quite noticeably. Therefore, at the lower level, employees are motivated by money but people at higher level the motive of self-actualization should be more important.

Research Scientists are mostly in agreement that the two categories of needs are sufficient to account for work motivation. Hence, Maslow’s theory is based on the following assumptions:

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