Maslow’s hierarchy for employee engagement – explained

How Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs can be applied to employee engagement

In 1943, American psychologist Abraham Maslow proposed that healthy human beings have a hierarchy of needs as a part of his Theory of Human Motivation.

This hierarchy has since been used to help employers better understand the satisfaction and motivation levels of their workforces.

The diagram looks like this:


The theory is that human motivation is the result of the fulfilment of 5 basic needs:

  • Physical
  • Safety and security
  • Positive social interactions
  • Self-esteem and accomplishment
  • Self-actualisation

Depending on where your employees fall, they could be considered motivators or de-motivators. The de-motivators fall within the bottom two levels of the hierarchy and the motivators the top three. They can be described as follows:

Level 1 – Survival

Employees at this level are working for a paycheck and nothing more. They need the job to survive and pay the bills but they are demotivated and disengaged from the organisation. They are likely to do the bare minimum and have relatively low levels of productivity.

Level 2 – Safety

These employees feel fulfilled by the security that comes with having a job, but aren’t motivated or engaged by their work. They don’t like working as a team and, as above, will likely be doing the minimum to get by. They aren’t bought into the business’s overall goals.

Level 3 – Belonging

At this level, employees will be aware they are part of something bigger. They should feel part of a team and understand that their contributions are valued. Although they could be tempted to move elsewhere, they are almost engaged and feel some level of pride in the work they do.

Level 4 – Importance

Employees within this level are engaged. They understand they have an important part to play within their team, projects and the organization more widely. Although they could be tempted if a much better role came along, they are achievers and know they play a vital role in the business.

Level 5 – Self-actualisation

These employees feel engaged, motivated and ambitious. They make the most of all learning and development opportunities and actively seek ways of doing more and helping others. They are reaching their full potential and inspiring others in the team.

Knock on effect

It’s important to note that an employee’s status as a motivator or demotivator has implications that reach further than their productivity alone. The level of motivation they are functioning at can impact the other people they work around.

For instance, a team led by a level 5 motivator is more likely to be made up of engaged, motivated individuals who are inspired by their work. Equally, if a department has a high level of demotivated members of staff working together, this could be negatively affecting the morale of the wider team.

Where do your employees fit in?

You may have a rough idea of which categories your employees fall within, but you won’t know for sure until you ask them. An anonymous employee satisfaction survey can help you do this.

Employers are often hesitant to carry out a survey for fear of the results, but ignoring the issue of employee engagement will only make things worse in the long run. Besides, the process of conducting the survey will show your team you care about their wellbeing and are willing to listen.

What’s important to remember is that, no matter where your employees currently lie within the diagram, they don’t have to stay there. As an employer, you have the power to listen to how they are feeling and put in place measures to try and improve this.

These measures could be anything from a new meeting strategy or better internal communications, to increased training opportunities or an employee recognition scheme. It’s really all down to the needs of your organisation and its people.

Anthem Engagement

This short glimpse into the world of employee engagement was originally created in collaboration with our friends at Anthem Engagement – we hope you’ve found it useful.

Would you like to talk to an expert about your team or any other area of your business? You can contact us on 0113 394 4559 or and we’ll be happy to help.