After reading this article you will learn about the motivational needs theory.

These suggest that individuals have certain physical and psychological needs they attempt to satisfy. Motivation is a force that results from an individual’s desire to satisfy these needs (e.g., hunger, thirst, social approval). Conversely, a satisfied need is not a motivator.

The most popular needs theories are:

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, ranging from physiological needs to safety, belonging, esteem, and self-actualisation needs.


Herzberg’s two-factor theory, whereby the satisfaction of needs has one of two effects- it either cases employees to be satisfied with their jobs, or it prevents employees from being dissatisfied with their jobs.

McClelland’s classification of needs is according to their intended effects, that is, they satisfy employee needs for achievement, affiliation, or power.

These theories focus on one basic question: what causes behaviour to occur and stop?

The answers normally center on:


(1) The needs, motives, or desires that drive, pressure, spur, and force employees to action, and

(2) Employees’ relationships to the incentives that lead, induce, pull and persuade them to perform.

Obviously the needs or motives are internal to the individual. They induce people to choose a particular course of action to satisfy a specific need or want. On the contrary, incentives are external factors that give value or utility to the goal or outcome of the employees’ behaviour.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs:


The concept of a need hierarchy was first advanced by Langer but it was made popular in the management field by Abraham H. Maslow in the 1940s.

Psychologist Maslow has developed the theory of the hierarchy of needs in 1943.

The hierarchy is based on the following four premises:

1. A satisfied need cannot serve as a primary motivator of behaviour and motivate people.


2. Human needs may be arranged in a hierarchy of importance progressing from a lower to a high order of needs (water, food and shelter) to the most complex (ego and self-actualization).

3. As soon as the person’s needs are met on one level, he advances up to the next level.

4. If satisfaction is not (cannot be) maintained for a once-satisfied need, it will become a priority need again. For instance, if a person has just satisfied security needs and has moved up to the social needs level, (job) security will become a priority once again if the person is fired from his job.

Thus, in Maslow’s scheme of things, needs can be thought of as being ranked in a hierarchy in which one need is more important than other until it is satisfied, the next high need becomes predominant. The order, however, can be reversed and even swing back and forth. However, once satisfied, a given need is satisfied, the next high need can no longer motivate human behaviour.


Only when one is denied of something, and therefore struggles to acquire it, it can be used as an incentive. In fact, the threat of deprivation of need often acts as an incentive. This concept is significant inasmuch as it effectively limits the frequency of use of certain incentives and restricts the use of others.

The five levels:

Maslow postulates that as individuals grow and mature, and satisfy their lower-level needs, higher-level needs emerge or evolve that they then want to satisfy. Thus, needs are satisfied in a sequence. Maslow assumed that peo­ple are ‘wanting’ animals who are motivated to sat­isfy various needs and that these needs are arranged in a hierarchy of importance. See Fig.13.8.

According to Maslow, there are five types of need, which, in ascending order of importance are:


(1) Physi­ological needs — for exam­ple, food, shelter, water, etc.,

(2) Safety needs — for example, protection against physical danger and eco­nomic disaster;

(3) Social and belongingness needs — for example, love, friend­ship, etc.,


(4) Ego and es­teem needs — for example, respect from fellow work­ers, status recognition, appreciation, etc., and

(5) Self-fulfillment, and self-actualization — for example, achieving one’s full potential, self-development and growth.

Maslow suggests that the five need categories are arranged in order of importance, starting at the bottom of the hierarchy.

As Fig. 13.8 shows, physiological needs have to be satisfied first; then safety needs become prominent and so forth. That is, an individual is motivated first and foremost to satisfy physiological needs.

1. Physiological and Biological Needs:

The primary or basic needs consist of water, air, shelter, and avoidance of pain. The manager attempts to satisfy these needs in the work place primarily through salary and by eliminating threats to physical safety.


“Man does not live by bread alone”, says the Bible, but hardly anything is more important when there is no bread. In most normal situations, our need for love, status, or recognition is inoperative when we are hungry for a while. But when we eat regularly and adequately, we ignore hunger as an important motivator. The same is true of other physiological needs such as for air, water, rest, exercise, shelter, etc.

In organisational settings, the physiological needs are generally taken care of by adequate wages and work environment itself, which provides rest-rooms, adequate lighting, comfortable tempera­tures and ventilation.

2. Safety and Security Needs:

When an individual’s physiological needs get fully satisfied, safety needs get the most important priority as motivator. The process continues until the individual reaches the self-actualisation level. Such needs get expression through employee unions, permanent jobs, and desires for insurance and retirement programmes.

Every rational individual (having some self-respect) always desires to live in a society in which he will be free from assault, tyranny and other threats to his physical and emotional sense of security.

Since most employees are in a dependent relationship in their work place, they often regard their safety needs as being very important. Arbitrary management actions (such as favouritism or discrimination) and unpredictable application of policies often become powerful threats to the safety needs of any employee at any level.


In case of most people safety needs are satisfied by such things as job continuity (no lay-offs), a grievance system (to protect against arbitrary supervisory actions), and an adequate insurance and retirement benefit package (for security against sickness/illness and provision of income in later life). Even today, however, depressed industries and general economic decline can put people out of work and restore the primacy of lower-level needs.

3. Social and Belonging Needs:

As soon as the minimum safety needs are satisfied, the love needs (affiliation or social needs) become dominant. At this stage people desire friendship, companionship, and a place in a group. Love needs include both giving and taking. Such needs are fulfilled by frequent interaction with fellow-workers and acceptance by others.

Belongingness needs are satisfied for most people by a combination of family and community relationships outside the work place and friendships on the job. A manager can ensure the satisfaction of these needs by allowing social interaction and by making employees feel like part of a team or work group. The manager can also be sensitive to the probable effects (such as absenteeism or low performance) when an employee faces family problems.

Management recognises the existence of these needs, but it often wrongly assumes that these needs represent a threat to the organisation. Therefore, apprehending group hostility to its own objectives, management may go a long way to control and direct human efforts in ways that are detrimental to cohesive work groups.

When safety and social needs of people are frustrated, they work in ways that defeat organisational goals (objectives). They become resistant, antagonistic, and uncooperative. But this behaviour is a consequence, not a cause, of their frustration.


4. Ego and Esteem Needs:

The next level in the hierarchy — ego and esteem needs — are of two kinds:

(1) Those that relate to one’s self-confidence, independence, achievement, competence and knowledge — and

(2) Those that relate to one’s reputation — needs for status, recognition, appreciation and the deserved respect of one’s colleagues.

These conditions must be based on real and earned capacities and achievements in the individuals and/or real respect from others. Satisfaction of these needs gives pride, self-con­fidence, and a true sense of importance. On the other hand, lack of satisfaction of these needs can give a feeling of inferiority, weakness and helplessness. Esteem needs are likely to be met in an organisation through recognition by peers and superiors of the person’s work, by acquiring organisational titles and by the accomplishment of work projects.

A manager can address esteem needs by providing various extrinsic symbols of accomplishment such as job titles, spacious offices and lavish furnishings as appropriate. At a more intrinsic level, the manager can provide challenging job assignments and other opportunities for the employee to feel a sense of accomplishment.


However, unlike the lower needs, these are rarely fully satisfied. It is because people seek to get more satisfaction of these needs once they have become important to them. Any organisation offers few opportunities for the satisfaction of these needs of people at lower levels in the hierarchy. The conventional method of organising work, particularly in mass-production industries, gives hardly any consideration to these motivational aspects.

5. Self-fulfillment and Self-Actualization Needs:

Maslow’s highest need level, self-actualisation or self- realisation, refers to the desire for fulfillment, i.e., the need to maximise the use of one’s skills, abilities and potential. This is necessary for continued self-development and for being creative in the broadest sense of that term.

Maslow has pointed out that the self-actualisation needs are perhaps the most difficult for a manager to address. In truth, these needs have to be satisfied entirely from within the individual. But a manager can help by promoting a climate wherein self-actualisation is possible. For instance, a manager could give employees a chance to participation in decision-making — making decision about their work and opportunity to learn new things about their jobs and the organisation.

However, the quality of work life in most organisations gives very little scope for fulfilling these needs. When other needs are not satisfied, workers attempt to satisfy those lower-order needs, and the needs for self-fulfillment remain dormant.

Deprivation-Domination and Gratification-Activation:


In short, Maslow believed that what an individual has must be in balance on a lower level of the hierarchy before the next higher level of needs becomes an important motivating factor.

Thus two general hypotheses have been built into Maslow’s theory:

(1) Deprivation-domination and

(2) Gratification-activation.

When a person feels deprived or is unable to fulfill a particular need in the manner that he desires so that a balance can be achieved, this lack of balance dominates his thinking and creates a sense of need. Corresponding, when a need is gratified and the imbalance is corrected, the next higher level of need is automatically activated, thus leading to the hypothesis of gratification-activation.