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Helping your employees be the best they can be

In the 1940s, an American psychologist created a theory that has defined the way we prioritize what's important in society. Abraham Maslow's ‘hierarchy of needs’ looked at which structural and emotional building blocks must be in place to find happiness; the same principles can be applied to the workplace environment, to increase employee satisfaction and motivation.

However, meeting the professional hierarchy of needs is only possible with the right structural support to create great people experiences. Technology built with people in mind can help create a journey to the top of Maslow's hierarchy of needs (level five: self-actualization), where he says motivation increases and individuals have the desire "to become the most that one can be."

Personal wellbeing in the professional environment

When Maslow created the hierarchy of needs, he looked at what practical and emotional elements were required to help people become the best version of themselves. His theory comprised of five levels, where each level had to be fulfilled before moving up to the next, in order to eventually become self-actualized at level five.

While the hierarchy was developed for personal wellbeing, Maslow’s framework can be mapped to the professional environment – helping employers to offer more significant support and development opportunities to their workforce.

Levels 1 & 2 – getting the basics right

The first two levels are physiological needs and safety. In the traditional pyramid, these basic requirements are essential resources we need to sustain ourselves – air, water, food, shelter, sleep. In the professional environment, however, the foundation of a healthy workplace culture is providing people with the tools they need to do their job efficiently. 

Independent research commissioned by Unit4 found that the average company loses 552 hours annually to administrative or repetitive tasks, equivalent to one-third of the working year. In light of this, organizations need to think carefully about the infrastructures and technologies put in place to automate or speed up many mundane activities so that employees can focus on higher-value (and higher satisfaction) duties. 

In addition to streamlining repetitive tasks, introducing centralized business technology makes it much easier for staff to work together towards common objectives. This is because data insights can be extracted and utilized across the business – operational statistics from areas such as sales, finance and HR can be combined with qualitative information, such as purchase intent and customer feedback – to rationalize and enhance decision-making. It’s an approach that benefits both employees and customers.

Levels 3 & 4 – creating a collaborative culture

With the basics in place, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs then turns to the emotional building blocks we require for survival: love, belongingness and esteem – a connection to others, a sense of community, and the worth needed to value our role in society.

In the business world, this translates to creating a climate of collaboration and recognition, where each employee feels that they have a distinct value.

To build this culture, companies need an effective way to measure people’s workplace satisfaction, to see which areas of the business require improvement.

There may be greater technology investment required to ensure that not only is each person working at their most productive level, but that they can respond to colleagues’ needs in an agile manner, so that every team member has a solid support network.

Level 5 – self-actualization

The summit of Maslow's hierarchy is a state called 'self-actualization’, a state in which people actively want to become the best version of themselves.

Self-actualized employees are highly motivated to improve their own performance and often seek ways to add value to their employers. They are open to trying new things instead of sticking to safe paths; they listen to their instincts when evaluating experiences, instead of blindly following tradition, authority or the majority; they are prepared to be unpopular if their views do not coincide with those of the majority, if it means doing things better; and they take responsibility seriously, working hard to meet (and sometimes exceed) company goals.  

To support people at the pinnacle of their performance, organizations need to provide employees with the information and evidence they need to challenge the status quo. They also need to give staff the platform to communicate their good ideas beyond the realms of a small team, to other areas of a much larger business that may benefit.

Empowering employees from the ground up

If Maslow’s hierarchy of needs teaches us anything about business culture, it’s that great employee experiences are built from the ground up. Strong foundations are essential for long-term success, and a vital part of strengthening these foundations is the choice of business software and the direction it sets you on. It’s impossible to reach the highest levels of self-actualization if the basics aren’t in place first.

Image of Lisa Dodman - Chief People Officer at Unit4

Lisa Dodman

Lisa has spent 25 years in HR working globally within generalist roles, and 18 years in the software industry largely in ERP and PLM organizations. Used to defining strategy and driving business transformations, Lisa has been instrumental since joining Unit4 in 2015, refocusing the business on talent enablement, leadership development, millennial hiring and engagement