Moving Past Maslow

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It has been a good run for Abraham Maslow and his motivational theory The Hierarchy of Needs. But after 75+ years, a new generation of employees may be turning Malsow’s motivational pyramid upside down.

It was in 1943 when Maslow first publish his concept of the Hierarchy of Needs in a paper titled A Theory of Human Motivation (Click here to read the article)

In the rare case that you have missed or forgotten the concepts, let me refresh your memory of the long lasting and ground breaking theory of human motivation. Maslow professed that all human motivation goes through distinct levels. Here they are as summarized in Maslow’s original research:

“There are at least five sets of goals, which we may call basic needs. These are briefly; physiological, safety, love, esteem, and self-actualization.”

Over the years, there has been criticisms of Maslow’s hierarchy theory. The main one being that one must start at one level and then pass to the next in a certain order. That being said, Maslow’s pyramid of motivation is still being discussed in every published organizational behaviour textbook today.

Society talks about companies such as Apple, Airbnb, and Uber as being societal and economic disruptors. Perhaps the millennials who are now the largest generation in the workforce (click here to read the official statistics) and their deep desire for meaningful work, is the ultimate disruptor in the workplace.

What would Maslow think of this statistic?  According to a recent survey, 47% of millennial respondents would give up a pay raise for more meaningful work. Of those who would forgo the raise, the average amount they would give up was $9,639. That is a huge reduction in income.

Click here if you wish to read the whole article.

It seems for the millennial workforce, self- actualization is the first step in their motivation – not the last. Almost 50% of millennial employees will forgo safety and security needs that come from earning more income in order to find employment that is meaningful to them.  Organizational and HR departments must start to deliver on this need.

This truly is disruptive behaviour in the workplace, and it turns traditional motivation and behaviour economic theory on its head.  How are HR departments going to respond? No longer can HR professionals stick their heads in the sand and think this trend will blow over. The largest group of employees in today’s workforce are demanding meaningful work and following a 75-year-old motivational theory will no longer cut it. There are not enough Gen Xers around to fill in the holes when the baby boomers are gone. What is HR to do?

Discussion Questions

  • Research and create a list on the ways millennials are different as compared to the baby boomers.
  • What are the key expectations of millennials in the workforce?

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