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Fiona Pollock

Zostera Ltd

Learning Consultant & Coach

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The Unintentional Trainer’s Guide to Maslows Hierarchy of Needs


Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

Here’s what you need to know about Maslow and his Hierarchy of Needs (who many of you may have heard of but not necessarily know much about):

1.  He was an American Psychologist who died in 1970.

2.  Maslow’s big interest was what motivated people, what made them tick.

3. He’s best known for creating his hierarchy of needs – which is pictured on the left.

4.  Through his work, he believed that everyone possesses a set of 5 needs (2 basic and 3 growth) which are unrelated to rewards (like pay etc).  He believed everyone was intrinsically driven to meet these 5 needs.

Now lets talk about the hierarchy of needs itself:

1. The two basic needs are:  Physiological and Safety.  The three growth needs are: Social, Esteem and Self-Actualisation.

2. Physiological needs are things like:  food, drink, shelter, warmth and sleep (the real fundamental things that people can’t survive without)

Safety needs include:  security, rules, order, freedom from fear and protection from the elements (needing to know that you are safe in the    environment in which you find yourself)

Social needs would include: friendship, intimacy, relationships and love (feeling like you belong and that you are part of a group)

Esteem would be things like: achievement, mastery, status, respect from others, independence and self-respect. (the need to have recognition from others)

Self-actualisation – self-fulfillment and seeking personal growth (where you achieve your personal potential).

3.  The pyramid shape of Maslow’s hierarchy is not an accident.  Maslow’s work showed that these 5 needs had to be met in a specific order.  If someone didn’t know where their next meal was coming from (a physiological need) that would take up all of their attention and focus.  It would be their driver.  Whether they were safe was a secondary concern and being part of a group or being recognised for their achievements didn’t even come onto their radar.

4.  Obviously, as people’s lives change, so too can their position on Maslow’s Hierarchy.  Someone who has been in their job for a number of years, is well respected and heads up their team will probably be meeting their physiological, safety, social and esteem needs.  But if they go into work one morning and are told their role is to be made redundant, the will most likely move straight back down the hierarchy and be focused on meeting their physiological needs due to the uncertainty of paying bills etc.

You can use this model during your training sessions if you are talking about change, engagement, motivation and what not.  But it’s also a great tool to use to ensure you are helping your delegates learn as best they can during you session.

Before delegates can learn (an esteem need), all the other lower level needs need to be covered, otherwise they just won’t be in the right frame of mind to take in what your sharing.  I’m sure you can think of lots of things to do to achieve this, but some things that you might want to include are:

Physiological –  make sure there is refreshments on arrival and during the session as appropriate, have water available throughout the session, tell people start and finish times, break times etc.

Safety – go through the H&S procedures for the room/venue, set the ground rules for the session and working with each other.

Social – Allow time at the start for delegates to mingle, encourage them to talk to each other, include an icebreaker (or similar) at the start of your session to encourage people to mix with each other, incorporate small group work and pair working into the structure of your session.

I'd love to hear how you get on.

From our Unintentional Trainer's Blog Series.  Read other posts in the series here:  You can also download our free ebook "40 top tips for terrific training".

One Response

  1. Maslow’s Problems

    Maslow's Hierarchy of needs has been proven time and time again to be a hypothesis with little supporting evidence. Maslow himself regretted at the end of his career that no one had researched and confirmed/denied his supposition. It was in fact done later and by the very University where he worked, the results were less than satisfactory.

    Here is a quote from the BBC referenced web site below:

    'There is a further problem with Maslow's work. Margie Lachman, a psychologist who works in the same office as Maslow at his old university, Brandeis in Massachusetts, admits that her predecessor offered no empirical evidence for his theory. "He wanted to have the grand theory, the grand ideas – and he wanted someone else to put it to the hardcore scientific test," she says. "It never quite materialised." However, after Maslow's death in 1970, researchers did undertake a more detailed investigation, with attitude-based surveys and field studies testing out the Hierarchy of Needs. "When you analyse them, the five needs just don't drop out," says Hodgkinson. "The actual structure of motivation doesn't fit the theory. And that led to a lot of discussion and debate, and new theories evolved as a consequence." '

    Maslow has become an ingrained and accepted model in training which is proposed as though it actually represents human behaviour it doesn't. One only has to observe how actors (as an example) are prepared in sacrifice Physiological Needs and to a lesser extent Safety Needs in order to self actualise, according to Maslow's model that shouldn't happen, but it does.

    For a detailed dismemberment of this concept here are a few links:


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Fiona Pollock

Learning Consultant & Coach

Read more from Fiona Pollock

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