Volume 51: Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Next week, much of the corrugated industry’s leadership will descend upon the city of Providence, RI for this year’s CorrExpo.

On Wednesday morning, as part of that event, I will be part of a seminar, with Clemson Professor, Dr. Nona Woolbright, and TAPPI Chairman, Roger Mills, that explores the challenges that corrugated companies will, and in some case do already, face when trying to on-board and maintain top talent in a changing world.

With that in mind, I wanted to preview what we’ll be talking about. The talent issues that the corrugated industry faces, and will continue to face, can be summed up pretty easily by comparing them to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

Are people’s professional needs being met?

For those of you that are unfamiliar, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs theory discusses the things a human being needs to live, and breaks them down into 3 Categories and 5 Sub-Categories:

It starts at the bottom with Basic Needs, which break down into Sub Categories of Physiological needs like food, water and rest, and Safety needs. These are obviously the most basic and important needs. You literally cannot live without them.

If you have these needs taken care of, you can begin to worry about Psychological Needs, which break down into Belongingness and Love needs, or the friendships and intimate relationships human beings build, and Esteem needs, or the prestige and feeling of accomplishment that people thrive off of. These things are also important and help us live full lives, surrounded by people we love, and with the validation most of us need.

If you have your Basic and Psychological Needs met, then you can begin to focus on the final category, Self-Fulfillment Needs, or Self Actualization. This is the drive to reach one’s full potential, beyond just the basic things we, as humans, need to live.

In much the same way, the needs of an employee can be broken down. Based on the most common complaints and concerns that I hear from constant contact with the industry, our team here at Oberg and Associates compiled the following Hierarchy of Employee Needs:

At the bottom, you have the Basic Needs of Compensation and A Safe Work Enviroment.

People need to make enough money to support their family, and be able to plan for the future. They also need a safe work environment, so that they can get home to see their family, and a reasonable schedule that allows them to rest. Overworked and tired employees are more likely to make mistakes.

Once you’ve fulfilled Basic Needs, there are some Psychological Needs that an employee requires from a company. This includes Clear Expectations and a sound Company Culture and Leadership Style.

Through Clear Expectations, an employee is able to achieve their goals and help the company move forward. Unclear expectations, or vague instructions, leave employees unable to complete the tasks set before them, and worse, can start to wear down an employee over time, as he worries about what he’s supposed to be doing, and if he’s doing the right thing.

Leadership Style and Company Culture are also important Psychological Needs, because if you have a poor company culture, or your leadership style is to yell and scream all the time, that’s also going to wear down your employees and burn them out.

A supportive company culture, and a leadership style that sets expectations in a respectful and transparent way, lead to better-motivated and better-performing employees.

And finally, in the Self-Fulfillment Category, are there Opportunities for Advancement?Can an employee reach their full potential at your company? Or are they forced to leave to take their next step elsewhere? Even if someone isn’t interested in the next role on the company ladder, most want to continuously grow and learn new things. If your company doesn’t support on-going training, you’re falling behind. If you’re not giving people regular merit increases, helping them increase their earning potential, you’re falling behind.


The bottom line of all of this breaks down into three points we’ve discussed many times in this newsletter: Be Open and Honest with your employees, make sure they know what is expected of them. Exhibit Mutual Respect, and they’ll feel like part of the team and be validated. Finally, help build them up to, and then give them a chance to earn, the Hard Results both Employee and Employer are looking for.

See you at CorrExpo next week.

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