Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Is Missing Something

Most everyone has heard about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs — a theory of what motivates human beings. It was presented by Abraham Maslow in 1943 and has since been used widely by corporate leaders, business owners, and managers across the enterprise to understand and motivate employees.

If you need a quick reminder, Maslow proposed that people have five levels of needs:

  • Physiological: Air, water, food, shelter, sleep, clothing, reproduction
  • Safety: Personal security, employment, resources, health, property
  • Love/belonging: Friendship, intimacy, family, sense of connection
  • Esteem: Respect, self-esteem, status, recognition, strength, freedom
  • Self-actualization: Self-fulfillment, achieving one’s full potential

Maslow was born in 1908, raised in Brooklyn (New York), and was the oldest of seven siblings born to immigrants from Kiev. He structured the above levels of needs as a pyramid, with basic physical (physiological) needs at the base and increasingly higher levels of needs moving up toward the top of the pyramid. People generally find motivation at a higher level only when their lower level needs are met. For example, an employee who is struggling to feed, clothe, and shelter herself and her family is more likely to be motivated by potential raises or bonuses and not by offers of increased recognition or status.

Although Maslow includes love and belonging in his hierarchy, I think he falls short by not thoroughly addressing what I call the need for relationship and connection — two needs I delve into more deeply in this post. We all need relationship and connection, but many of us do not realize we have this need, or we even fight it through a false need for independence or self-reliance — believing that we can and should “do” life all alone. (Curiously enough, self-reliance and independence are excluded from Maslow’s hierarchy, as they should be. Though one might choose to argue that self-actualization would include these.)

Keep in mind that, by definition, the need for relationship and connection cannot be met in isolation. We need others, and they need us for all of us to feel bonded and to support one another. We need others to bear our burdens in times of crisis. No one can, or should, “go it alone.”

From childhood on

This need for relationship and connection begins early in Continue reading…