Making Employees Feel Valued

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Everyone who has studied management, human motivation or organizational psychology has, no doubt, encountered Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

Abraham Harold Maslow was a Brooklyn-born son of Russian Jewish immigrants who became an eminent professor of psychology. Because of his pioneering work on the psychology of normal people, Maslow earned the honor of being named (in 2002) as one of the ten most-cited and influential psychologists of the 20th Century.

Not content with then-pervasive psychological models of the human psyche, based on analyses of severely mentally ill and pathologically dysfunctional, neurotic or otherwise maladjusted individuals, Maslow focused his studies on the mental and attitudinal characteristics of those who were emotionally healthy, socially competent, high-achieving individuals of admirable character, cataloguing his observations and calling his new discipline humanistic psychology. Maslow originated the concepts of metamotivation and metaneeds, peak experience, self-actualization and, most importantly, gave us the hierarchy of human needs that became inextricably connected to his name.

The growing corporate world of 1950s America saw managers of large organizations faced with the need to motivate and guide the work efforts of hundreds of employees who were only marginally committed to the mission of the larger entity and differed greatly in personality, aptitude, ambition and output. The era demanded creation of “experts” to advise large corporations on ideal organizational structure and optimal management techniques to maximize efficiency and increase profits. Time-and-motion studies were born, and the “experts” turned to the nascent field of normal psychology to learn how to develop and motivate employees.

The work of Abraham Maslow was invaluable to these efforts.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs continues to provide managers with a potent tool to further their understanding of the employees they are charged with overseeing, motivating, developing and inspiring to work harder, and smarter

As a result of his studies, Maslow began categorizing human needs on a scale that ranged from the most basic level to the most elevated, with progress continuing up the scale only after the preceding level of need was met. Although his theory is usually depicted with levels of need rising on a pyramid from base to pinnacle, Maslow never actually used this imagery. Yet, over time, as the Hierarchy was explained to generations of students and managers, the pyramid became the most effective means of illustrating Maslow’s theory in a memorable manner.

The four layers of need at the base of the pyramid are the most essential. Maslow called these the deficiency needs which must be met, on at least a minimal level, before an individual can progress. The four d-needs are esteem; friendship and love; security – both physical and economic; and physiological need (including fresh air, adequate hydration, food, shelter, clothing, hygiene, general comfort and an environment conducive to meeting daily needs). Unmet, these deficiency needs will cause a person to feel anxious and tense. When basic needs remain unaddressed, Maslow posited, the individual will not be motivated to devote attention to higher level needs. Some people, however, persist in moving ahead despite their d-needs remaining unsatisfied. He ascribed the term, metamotivation, as the dominant attribute of these individuals, who consistently go beyond achieving basic needs to pursue personal betterment and individual growth.

Because of the complexity of the human mind and personal factors that impinge on our priorities, dominance of personal needs can vary, with specific needs gaining or losing importance at various times, affecting interest and motivation differently. As Maslow ultimately concluded, the hierarchies of need are interrelated, rather than being distinctly separate.

Most companies do a good job providing a fair wage and a safety net to deal with most financial and health security needs. Surprisingly, while money and position can contribute to a sense of esteem – of being valued and respected – cold, hard cash is not a primary motivator. Rather, the need for friendship, acceptance and a feeling of “belonging” are far greater motivators. And there is no substitution for the human need for esteem. We all want to be appreciated, our efforts valued, and our selves respected by those around us.

Esteem issues are best dealt with by reinforcement of accomplishments, respectful treatment, and appropriate increases in job responsibilities over time

The self-actualizing individual is a rare being, best described by the military recruitment slogan, “be all that you can be.” A perceived need for self-actualization demands that the individual strive to reach his or her full potential in every way. Perfectionists often fall into this category.

A supervisor or manager is faced daily with a coterie of diverse employees whose needs shift constantly between the hierarchical levels. These shifts impact job performance on levels ranging from subtle to manifest.

Maslow’s Hierarchy is a potent aid to help you understand and respond preventively to nuances in employee behavior and performance that can affect productivity. Dig out that management text and refresh your memory. Become familiar with its tenets. They will come in handy when considering what makes your employees “tick.”

Remain sensitive to shifts in employee attitude and work effort. Address changes preemptively and offer assistance and support in a professional manner, without encouraging unnecessary sharing of confidences. Work product should remain the focus. A manager should maintain an open door policy without falling into the “sympathy trap,” which can disrupt office dynamics.

Show appreciation for work well done, even when the work is not extraordinary and is well within the job description. It is hard to overdo sincere and even-handed appreciation for employees who do what is expected of them daily, to the best of their ability.

See that the office environment is a comfortable one – one that fosters teamwork and a sense of belonging, as well as solidifying employee loyalty and championing company ideals.

Remember, everyone is special, and every job is important to the overall effort. You are, after all, in this together.

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