How to maximize employee health and productivity

Maslow’s ‘hierarchy of needs’ shows how individual needs affect the work environment


What tools can business leaders use to maximize productivity? As long as employees play a part in “getting the job done,” understanding and utilizing Maslow’s “hierarchy of needs” can help employers understand a better path to success.

Abraham Maslow was an American psychologist who, in 1943, wrote and published a paper titled, “A Theory of Human Motivation.” He proposed that people are motivated by basic needs, which have to be met in a certain order, before they are motivated to achieve higher goals.

His hierarchy of needs is often depicted using a pyramid to represent the levels of need. As you can see in the diagram, in order for employees to be creative and effective problem-solvers, numerous other levels of needs must first be met. 

Why is this important in the workplace? Human needs are tied directly to health and wellness. Employers who invest in their employees’ health and wellness play a significant role in helping employees move up the pyramid to attain levels that directly and positively influence company productivity and profit.

Here are the levels of needs and how employers play a direct role in negatively or positively affecting personal employee growth:

 • Physiological: These are considered critical needs. Without these, human life is at risk. Therefore, when employees are in life situations where any of these needs are in peril, stress is extremely high, and being able to show up for work and be productive on a regular basis are less likely. In a work setting, when employees don’t earn enough money to satisfy these most basic needs, virtually every area of their lives is negatively affected. Absenteeism is likely to be high and productivity low. Therefore, adequate pay and access to basic needs is essential for both employee health and wellness and for employers to avoid losses caused by a chronic reduction in productivity.

 • Safety: Once physiological needs are met, people need to have an overall feeling that they are operating in a safe environment. This can cover everything from working in a building where basic safety rules are followed to working in an environment free from physical and verbal abuse or harassment. Therefore, respectful communication is vitally important in this area. Safety also includes job security. During times of layoffs or in environments where “bad” bosses rule, employee stress becomes very high and productivity suffers. 

 • Love/belonging: Is the work environment friendly and relaxed? Do employees feel they are a part of a team, as opposed to being an outsider or “just a number”? Do employees work together in natural ways or are they hyper-focused on avoiding criticism? Employees who feel genuinely cared for at work are more likely to stay and flourish.

 • Esteem: When employers create a successful wellness culture, employees are much more likely to reach this level. They are secure enough with themselves and their jobs to increase their self-confidence in their roles and achieve higher levels of success. They’re also much more likely to attract the respect of co-workers and show respect for others. Their basic needs are something they don’t have to spend any time stressing over, freeing up valuable time and energy to provide quality work.

 • Self-actualization: Employers benefit greatly from employees who are creative problem-solvers. These traits are found in the highest level of the hierarchy of needs. Companies that are voted best to work for by their employees are much more likely to be companies that help employees reach this level of self-actualization. In this setting, stress is often reported to be very low and productivity and growth are high. As a result, costly employee turnover is also low.

Countless personal and professional factors, along with life events, can affect a person’s current state as it relates to this schematic. However, the basic concepts provide valuable information on the needs of employees as individual people and how those needs directly and indirectly affect the work environment and productivity. 

Not coincidentally, employers who prioritize health, wellness and safety often report higher returns on investment from these efforts due to helping employees meet multiple levels of need. Employers play a significant role in helping employees rise to the level of self-actualization, greatly benefiting both parties

Carol Phillips, author of “52 Simple Ways to Health,” is a Manchester-based health and wellness expert. She can be reached through her website at 

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