Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is taught as a way of understanding people’s motivations.
The hierarchy of needs is a useful starting point — managers often don’t get past first base when it comes to thinking about why people do things.
Yet the theory is not beyond criticism. I’ve dealt with criticism of the way the hierarchy of needs theory misses the spiritual dimension before.
Maslow says people attend to basic needs first and progressively deal with more complex matters until they reach a point he calls self-actualisation at the top of the hierarchy’s pyramid.
Not everyone gets that far.
Maslow made crude assumptions
The theory makes crude assumptions that don’t apply to everyone.
Maslow’s idea belongs to a time and place. He was American. He first suggested the hierarchy in the 1940s. The ideas are specific to America’s individualist culture. There middle-class people worry about their personal needs more than any collective needs.
He makes no allowances for parents worrying about children or workers being concerned about colleagues.
All-in-all Maslow offers a one-dimensional view of how people behave. It certainly doesn’t apply to other cultures.
As I said earlier, even if the hierarchy of needs is wrong, it has value. That’s because it teaches managers that looking into people’s motivations is important. Too often managers treat people as if there are no external forces driving them.