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Bill Bennett


Another criticism of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

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 Maslow’s 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 had crude assumptions

The theory makes crude assumptions that don’t apply to everyone.

Maslow’s idea belongs to a time and place. Maslow 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.

As I said earlier, even if Maslow’s 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.



3 thoughts on “Another criticism of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

  1. There are no dates on most of your pages – I can’t see at a glance if what I’m reading is an hour old, or a year.

  2. “He makes no allowances for parents worrying about children or workers being concerned about colleagues.”

    Actually he does. This is the aspect that comes under the emotional and relationship needs level. You have to understand that Maslow was incredibly aware of the socio-cultural limitations of theories, and also how to look beyond them. His article on Humanistic Science and Transcendental Experiences is very revealing on this matter.


    So, Maslow looked past his specific cultural limitations to identify unifying human qualities that TRANSCEND specific societies and cultures. Infact, the psychological bent of different communities can be fit into the Needs model. Since then, the model has been finely detailed into what is now called Spiral Dynamics, which I think addresses more of your specific concerns.

  3. Yes I think the historical perspective may place some constraints on the hierarchy. However, I do see and read about this valuable model being applied in every aspect of management either intrinsicially or extinsicially across a variety of professions. Nothing is perfect and I personally feel this really works for me

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