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What is Maslow’s hierarchy of needs theory?

Last updated: October 2016

Maslow’s hierarchy

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs theory

The hierarchy of needs theory was developed by Abraham Maslow in 1954 even though the origin of the theory dates back in 1943 when Maslow wrote a paper ‘A Theory of Human Motivation’ for a scientific journal called Psychological Review. Maslow was a psychologist and worked as a psychology professor as well.

Maslow’s theory has five stages as shown in the diagram above. According to Maslow, human beings are wanting-animals and their needs come one after another. Once a need is met, a new one comes up.

Physiological Needs

Physiological needs are also called biological needs. Human beings have needs for food, drink, shelter and so on.  These needs need to be met so that people can physically function well.  A salary from work helps people buy stuff to meet the physiological needs.

Safety Needs

These needs include security of environment, employment, health, property etc. No wonder why employees are concerned about getting their employment contract on time and having their job permanent. It is because a contract of employment alleviates an employee’s concern for job security.

Social Needs

Human beings live in society and crave for love, friendship, family etc. Once physiological and safety needs are met, needs for love and friendship become important. People are often engaged in social, community, or religious groups which help them address their social needs. In work place, events are organised to meet employees’ social needs. Examples include but not limited to group holidays abroad, New Year party, birth day party etc.

Esteem Needs

Who does not want their efforts to be recognised?  The answer is virtually ‘none’. Human beings crave for self-esteem, personal worth, social recognition, and accomplishment. People work hard to get promoted, and get their efforts appreciated. Without an appropriate system in place to recognise individual efforts in work place, it will be difficult for managers to motivate their employees.


It is a feeling that a person’s full potential has been realised. According to Maslow, this level is about a person’s desire to achieve everything she/he can. This is a difficult stage and conceptual understanding of it may vary from one person to another.

Finally, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a widely known theory of motivation. His theory outlines five stages of needs which people would like them to be fulfilled in life. These needs are in an order of hierarchy implying that a lower lever need must be met in order for people to move on to a higher need. However, it should be noted that Maslow’s theory has been criticised for its certain limitations.

Further Reading/References

Maslow, A. (1970) Motivation and personality, 2nd edition, New York: Harper & Row.

Plunkett, W., & Attner, R. (1994), Introduction to Management, 5th Edition, International Thomson Publishing

Author: Joe David

Joe David has years of teaching experience both in the UK and abroad. He writes regularly online on a variety of topics. He has a keen interest in business, hospitality, and tourism management. He holds a Postgraduate Diploma in Management Studies and a Post Graduate Diploma in Marketing Management.

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