The Psychology of Employee Motivation

Motivating Employees

Abraham Maslow developed the concept of the Hierarchy of Needs and it has been extensively applied to managerial situations. Maslow suggests that people are motivated by 5 levels of needs and higher level needs do not motivate until lower level needs are met. That is, if the need for adequate money is not met, even the most creative employee rewards program cannot motivate employees. Take a look at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and think about where your employees are today and determine what you’ll need to do next.

  • Physiological Needs

    The lowest and most basic needs in the workplace, and in life in general, are physiological needs. Physiological needs are usually associated with money; that is, people use money to satisfy basic motivations. If a person’s physiological (financial) needs are not met, higher level needs are relatively unimportant. If employees don’t earn enough money to comfortably meet basic financial needs such as rent, healthcare, etc., it is difficult to focus on creating value in the workplace Are your employees consumed with the salary issue? If so, conduct market research to ensure your salary is competitive and fair.

  •  Safety Needs

    Safety and security needs in the workplace involves job security factors. This doesn’t mean that employees need assurance of lifetime employment, but rather that reasonable precautions are being taken to minimize risks. (Of course, in today’s economy there are no guarantees.) You can meet employees’ needs on this level by keeping them informed of the company’s health and financial position and keeping them in the loop on all company matters that affect them.

  • Social Needs

    Not surprisingly, most people are concerned about their social relationships and want to belong and be accepted by others. Managers must expect that employees will want to satisfy the need for social relationships on the job. If the satisfaction of social needs is hindered, employees may become apathetic, uncooperative, and even aggressive toward the manager. Years ago I brought in a consultant to my call center who told me that one of the biggest problems facing my group was that they did not have the opportunity to meet their social needs (on the job). I had to learn to provide opportunities for socialization through staff meetings, employee luncheons and even venting with one another between calls.

  • Esteem or Ego Needs

    Esteem needs relate to individuals’ achieving the confidence and respect they desire in themselves and want to be recognized by others. These needs include the desire for recognition, promotion, achievement and accomplishment. Failure to meet these needs can result in apathetic behavior and substandard work.


  • Self-Actualization or Self Realization Needs

    The highest level of needs in Maslow’s hierarchy involves the development of full potential. Self actualized people want to use their capabilities to the fullest and continue to grow. We all have the need to express our full potential in life and in our work, but according to Maslow, most people don’t become fully self-actualized because they expend their energy trying to meet the lower level needs. In order to help your employees express their full potential, you must first create an atmosphere that supports the first 4 basic needs.

Employees are motivated by needs that are not satisfied. In other words, it is what employees are seeking that is motivational, not what they already have. As lower level needs are satisfied (physiological/financial and safety/a sense of job security, etc.) they retain less motivational value in an individual’s behavior. Once a level of needs is satisfied, you must move to the next level in order to truly motivate your employees.


Now you can get even more ideas for motivating employees, specifically how to motivate employees working in customer service. Join me for my 60-minute webinar, How to Motivate Customer Service Employees. It’s loaded with practical ideas to resist burnout and fire-up customer service employees. Attend live or watch the recording, which is available 4-hours after the live event.

Myra Golden is a consultant and keynote speaker who has been helping companies for over twenty years to improve employee relations through her work with Human Resource Departments. Myra has a master’s degree in human relations and a bachelor’s degree in psychology, helping her to understand the challenges of Human Resources as it relates to the psychology of the employees. She is also a veteran customer service expert who specializes in engaging employees through live training and online learning.