In 1948, early psychology researcher Abraham Maslow published a paper called “A Theory of Human Motivation.” This paper and the idea of a hierarchy of needs quickly became a cornerstone of modern psychology and human relations. But does Maslow’s theory also inform employment, hiring and retention? Understanding each area of the hierarchy of needs as they relate to your employees will have a direct impact on improving employee retention.

Physiological Needs

At the bottom of Maslow’s pyramid are physiological needs. These are:

  • Food
  • Water
  • Shelter

For employees, this translates to one crucial factor: money. An employee’s salary should be able to cover the most basic needs without sacrifice or struggle. Today, post-pandemic, there’s been a lot of discussion about living wages. The World Population Review studies and publishes their findings regarding salaries in each state to determine base wages. Ensuring that your pay rates are competitive and meet the minimum basic requirements to allow for someone to live comfortably will be the first step.

Need for Safety

Money also plays into the next step up on Maslow’s list. The need for safety includes financial security. That’s not just meeting basic needs but being comfortable that emergencies won’t lead to bankruptcy. In terms of the workplace, safety also plays a part in access to quality healthcare and the assurance that employees are safe against accidents or injuries. Different industries will have different risks, of course. An office environment doesn’t pose the same levels of risk as industrial manufacturing, so your policies regarding safety need to be in proportion to the work.

The Feeling of Belonging

As we move up the hierarchy, we leave basic needs behind
and turn to more psychological requirements. If the conditions for food and safety are met in our lives, our focus will tend toward social needs. If there was anything we learned through 2020, humans are social by nature, so when the need for safety and security became more important, social activity was suspended. This created feelings of isolation for a lot of people. Social groups, friendships, and community are all tied up in the sense of belonging. Companies have the onus to create a workplace where connection is emphasized.


The psychological community has pondered the idea of self-esteem for a long time. If the other levels have been satisfied, the human need to feel valued and appreciated becomes essential. While esteem is often considered an aspect of personal growth, a company that encourages the development of esteem among employees will see a marked improvement in motivation, performance, and job satisfaction. Thi can be accomplished by providing SMART goals and celebrating the achievements of employees.


At the pinnacle of Maslow’s pyramid is self-actualization. According to Maslow himself, this centers on the idea that once all other needs are met, people need to feel they are reaching their full potential. The best way to tap into this need within your workplace is to provide career development, encouragement, and fulfilling work. Some experts even encourage companies to allow superstar employees to pursue their goals outside the workplace and recognize each team member as a complete human being who only wants every aspect of their life to be in balance.

Putting This in Practice

Understanding the hierarchy of needs as they pertain to the workforce is only the first step. Once you know what they are, it’s essential to put them into practice to ensure that everyone who works within your organization feels secure, safe, included, appreciated and fulfilled. What does this look like for today’s employers?

Competitive Salaries

Use tools such as to determine the median wage for specific job titles in your area. You can also research your competition and ensure that you are paying what each job is worth in your community to keep people on your team.

Healthcare Benefits

2020 raised a lot of questions about health insurance and what that means to people and their families. Offer affordable benefits that also cover vision and dental. You can also offer additional coverage, such as mental health resources.

Diversity and Inclusion

A sense of community within the workplace means a seat at the table for everyone. Create a clear plan for equity in your organization, including in leadership positions. A recent survey by Jobvite indicated that 42% of job seekers would reject a job offer from a company without a clear plan for diversity and inclusion.


Celebration has two primary components. The first is gratitude. Be sure to regularly thank and appreciate your employees for the work they do. The second is creating memorable events that will engage and excite your team members.

Work/Life Balance

The topic of work/life balance has been around for a while now, but it’s still top of mind for many job seekers. Especially over the last year, when jobs became remote by necessity, some employees found they preferred that work and were willing to look for new jobs than return to the office. Work-from-home opportunities, flexible schedules, and paid time off can help.

Meeting all your employees’ needs is about recognizing the humanity in all of your workers. They are your companies most significant asset and best investment.