On Maslow’s Chart by Richard Bleil
Back in 1943, Maslow published his Hierarchy of Human Needs. Much like the food pyramid, the he hypothesized that human development follows this track from the most basic needs (at the base of the pyramid) to the most advanced (at the apex).
The most fundamental and basic need is physiological needs. This is just basic survival, the things we need to keep going. This includes food, heat, shelter, water and such. This is why we seek to get jobs, and is the part that it feels is to what corporations begrudgingly pander. Although they would rather that we all work for free so their profit margin increases, they pay us money, and pat themselves on their backs for providing basic needs for people, giving them jobs (not good jobs) so they can get an apartment and, with the help of the government, eat. But, this alone ignores four more levels of development that people need to feel satisfied, enriched and happy. This is why so many people are so unhappy with their jobs, and why they often leave to seek these higher levels elsewhere, which leaves executives scratching their heads and wondering why they can’t retain good employees.
Maslow suggested that people do not climb the pyramid out of order. In other words, one will not go to the second rung until the first is met, or the third until the second and so forth. The second rung is security. Not getting knifed is a good start, but it goes beyond that. It is why people like to make a nice income so they can live in upper scale and safer neighborhoods, but it also means security in your job. In the last three major jobs that I had, I went from being golden to a pile of disposable garbage because my supervisor changed. Even today there are problems in my new position. As a chemistry professor, it’s to be expected. It’s an intimidating and often challenging subject to teach, and students who would rather blame the professor for their poor performance than do the work of figuring out how to improve like to complain above his head. The problem is when administration believes everything that is said rather than actually spending the time to look into the complaints. Already there have been questions as to whether or not I’ll be asked to stay. This means I am below even the second Maslow rung (and barely hanging onto the first). Without feeling secure about this position, what is my motivation to feel dedicated to the institution, or put in any extra effort for them?
Third on the rung are social needs, such as friends and family. I’m not sure I agree that this belongs in the pyramid or with its placement, but I understand its inclusion. Even “off of the chart”, I relied on my friends more than I would have liked for survival, and still do today. But, I will add that without a steady, reliable and decent income, I also don’t socialize. I’ve been reticent to make any close friends here at work since I’m uncomfortable with how long I will be here. I’ve avoided dating, or going out with friends because what little money I have I feel a strong need to hold onto as long as I can in anticipation of it running out. Industrially, friends are what makes work fun, so if I don’t feel comfortable in my position, I don’t make friends, and while that may not make my relationship with the institution weaker, it does mean the loss of a reason to further cement it.
Fourth on the pyramid, and second from the top, is self-esteem. This is the point where the job becomes a career. Instead of saying “I’m a clerk”, one might say “I’m a sales associate at…” There’s pride in announcing what one does, and the company with whom they are affiliated. An individual is taken care of financially, is feeling secure in their job, and has friends at work. Now they begin to care about advancement, and taking care of the company. It is at this step that people feel connected to the company, and are dedicated to it. It is the step that corporations would like their employees to be, but they often fail to realize all of the work that they have to put into it to get people there.
Finally is self-actualization. This is where the employee becomes creative, pitches in to help more, thinks about how to resolve problems. This is where one becomes a leader in the company, whether or not they have a title. It’s the best employee. It’s the one that knows what will fly with administration and what won’t, the one that doesn’t need a supervisor to tell them what to do when a problem arises but just solves it, the one that other employees turn to for help. But how can anybody do this if they constant feel as if they are one sentence away from losing everything?
I’ve reached that apex. I taught at an institution where I had written programs and made significant advances only to have a new dean decide that she really wanted me gone. And I slid. I stopped being creative (and even became sloppy) and stopped wanting to help since she made it clear that I was not welcome anyway. I became ashamed to admit the institution where I had worked. I began distancing myself from some of my friends (not all of them…this is where it becomes foggy because many of them had evolved to be good friends beyond the realm of the institution) and no longer felt safe.
It hurts when this happens. In fact, I can honestly say from experience that it’s akin to having a spouse cheat on you. You feel betrayed, bitter, angry; you dwell on what you have accomplished and wonder if they remember any of it at all (spoiler alert: they don’t). Each time it happens, you feel more guarded with each new job. Unfortunately, employers will not learn this lesson until they stop dwelling on profit and begin focusing on their people. I don’t begrudge companies making money; that’s how they stay in business. But if they continue to treat their employees as disposable, then they have nobody to blame for lack of dedication but themselves.