One of Esalen’s most transformational moments occurred one day in 1963 when humanistic psychologist Abraham Maslow drove down Highway 1 in Big Sur looking for a place to stay the night and, by chance, came across our young organization.
At the time, Maslow was fermenting some renegade ideas about the human psyche, and he ended up staying on at Esalen to work on his groundbreaking Hierarchy of Needs.
If you’re not familiar with Maslow’s famous pyramid, imagine a triangle separated into five distinct layers with each layer representing a specific human need. At the very base of the triangle are our most basic wants - food, water, shelter - that if not met may mean our very survival. The next level up are our safety and security needs, followed by the need to feel a sense of belonging and connection and a layer above that which encompasses a sense of self esteem, respect and freedom. At the top of the triangle is what Maslow called “self-actualization” - the point at which we realize our full potential and become the best version of ourselves.
Maslow’s theory is that we must address our most basic physiological needs before we can attend to our psychological needs and ultimately achieve a level of self-fulfillment.
We are all capable of advancing in this hierarchy - and in fact are motivated by these needs - but our progress can be hindered when an area is not met. For example when a loss of a job threatens a sense of security or a divorce or break-up endangers a sense of belonging there is less motivation to focus on our self-esteem drivers.
So how is Maslow relevant for your workplace? It means the perceived separation of personal life and work life is just that - a perception - as the events of 2020 have shown that effective managers need to be aware of all aspects of their staff’s well-being in order to ensure the team’s overall success. If a team member’s spouse was recently laid off, chances are high that he or she may be distracted or worse. Here are three ways to support your team’s hierarchy of needs and help your organization meet its full potential:
1. Not Just Bounce Back, Bounce Forward
The journey through Maslow’s hierarchy is not a simple one; likely we will all experience a time when a challenge moves us in a downward direction. When we observe a team member struggling, our goal should be to provide resources to help him or her not just bounce back..but bounce forward. Research over the last 20 years has focused on the ability to grow from a trauma, meaning it’s possible not only to recover but to come back stronger.
2. Vulnerability Is the New Brave
Author Brene Brown has become synonymous with research around vulnerability. “Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change,” according to Brown, and what organization wouldn’t want to foster more innovation and creativity while also ensuring teams feel a level of trust to share when they are struggling and in need of support? The first step is to set aside the dated notion that to show vulnerability is a weakness and to ask for help is unprofessional. Managers can help set the tone by modeling healthy ways to be vulnerable at work, and more importantly, respond positively when team members show their vulnerability.
3. Culture Is Community
As of 2020, Millennials now make up half of the global workforce. And with their presence comes an intense focus on the value of community, making the need for belonging in Maslow’s hierarchy even more relevant for workplace managers. If the sense of belonging is weak in your organization, the ability to move your team to higher levels of performance and creativity may be impeded. Be sure to look for ways to build community in your culture, especially when current events place many workers at home.