As a partner in two businesses, I am forever examining what creates contentment for our team, especially since media is ceaselessly demanding, given the dynamism of the marketplace. One way I endeavor to foster employee satisfaction is to consider individual growth within the context of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
The pyramid, based upon a paper written in 1943, lays out humankind’s most fundamental needs. It begins with our most basic necessities and then suggests additional tiers of needs that act as a kind of stairway that leads to self-actualization, whereby one achieves their highest purpose. By considering employee happiness within the context of this model, managers can help foster meaningful employee growth. Here is a suggested approach.
1. Physiological: Food, Water, Warmth, Rest
Maslow’s Hierarchy’s lowest rung involves those things necessary for basic survival. But what are those mandates in the context of a workplace? Beyond an offer of employment, they include an organizational chart, job description, rules of engagement and expectations.
That may sound basic to the point of being silly, but I’ve observed many entrepreneurs who avoid these fundamentals because they fear structure will squelch innovation. They create loose organizational charts based upon the strengths and weaknesses of the cast of characters they happen to have assembled, as opposed to what will help the business flourish. This can work — there are many bootstrapped organizations that achieve growth without guard rails — but eventually, they peak or collapse altogether. Why? Because rather than identifying a goal line, it is management akin to a rugby scrum, where staff chases after objectives that bounce around the field of play willy-nilly. The result: confused and exhausted employees who ultimately burn out.
2. Safety Needs: Security, Safety
Nobody in the workplace has to worry about being eaten by a lion. Or do they? If you’ve ever had a screamer boss who used public humiliation to motivate desired behavior — then you might think twice about being someone’s lunch. While command-and-control management has largely given way to a participative style where employees enjoy a share of voice, successful businesses are not run democratically.
How does a manager balance the need for accountability but still allow employees to operate within a safe haven? I once had a perpetually grouchy boss. One day I asked him when should I come to you with a problem. He explained that I shouldn’t come to him with a problem without having at least two solutions. What I realize now, as a manager, is this simple guideline decentralizes making decisions and creates a more efficient organization. When an employee makes a mistake, it should be used as an opportunity for company-wide learning, not abject scolding. By allowing successes and failures to be vetted with equal transparency, the organization is bound together by deeper trust and mutual respect.
3. Loving/Belonging: Intimate Relationships, Friends
There is a distinction between a job and a career. A job is somewhere you go to punch a clock — a career forms part of your identity and you become a part of a tribe. Unlike many industries, the media industry in which my business operates in blurs the line between work and play; the professional and personal. That can be a byproduct of day-to-day trench warfare planning and buying media, or due to the fact that many in our shop are at similar stages of life.
Taking the time to enjoy off-site activities together and to celebrate who we are outside the workplace helps us appreciate how multifaceted we are beyond the day-to-day grind. The path to feeling that you are a part of something greater than yourself lies in individual connections with peers. You become part of a team where there is more at stake than your own self-interest. Sensations of pride and loyalty naturally follow.
4. Esteem Needs: Prestige And Feelings Of Accomplishment
Annual reviews are great because they allow managers to benchmark and reward achievement. Nonetheless, once a year is not enough. Take the financial performance of an organization. Many C-suite executives think this information should be shared on a need-to-know basis. But if employees are involved in profit sharing or 401(k)-matching that is based upon organizational performance, wouldn’t it be smarter to review those numbers monthly or quarterly?
This kind of transparency allows everyone to know where things stand and to feel a sense of ownership when goals are surpassed. Similarly, catching someone doing something right and recognizing them publicly — whether that be in a company-wide newsletter or a team meeting, is akin to making a deposit in their emotional bank account. And guess what? It costs management nothing.
5. Self-actualization: Achieving One’s Potential, Including Creative Activities
Have you ever been overwhelmed by the feeling of knowing what you were put on earth to do? I’m not an adherent of new ageism, but I can say unequivocally that there is no better feeling than to have that sense of purpose, knowing you are where you should be, doing what you should be doing. People talk about the “creative class” and most often think that means filmmakers or painters, writers or dancers. But I would submit there is creativity in everything, including number crunching, airtime buying and, yes, day-to-day management. Our job as supervisors is to identify what it is our individual team members do best and what gives them the greatest sense of satisfaction and then, if that corresponds with the needs of the organization, empower them to do that very thing in the most brilliant way possible given their talents.
What motivates people may depend upon what wrung of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs an employee is occupying at any given point. Each of us is on our own individual journey. By viewing the task of management through the lens of this paradigm is to recognize that we, as managers, have a chance to help foster fulfillment in others and accelerate their path to happiness. The result: a new definition of what it means to lead a profitable enterprise.