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?

Compensation? Do Tell!

What do employees want to know about compensation?

Close-up Of Businessman Hands Giving Cheque To Other Person In Office

What makes compensation effective? Employers, do you really want to know? The secret is that employees just want to know. They don’t necessary want to know everyone’s wages but they do want to know how the compensation system works in their organization.

Most organizations are afraid to talk about compensation. It is almost like politics and religion, which are not usually talked about in public. However, like any topic that is not discussed in the workplace, misinformation breeds like a wildfire. Misinformation leads to assumptions and workplace assumptions are usually incorrect, which can lead to organizational frustration.

A study by Peter LeBlanc shows that effectively communicating your compensation system will benefit your organization.

Click here to read about the study.

According to the study, the best way to communicate your compensation systems is to, “Keep it personal, interactive and it is best presented one on one from the employees direct manager.” Furthermore, the study also found that “…at all income levels…the more knowledge our study participants have about their pay system, the more likely they are to be satisfied with their pay and engaged at work.”

The shroud of secrecy over workplace compensation needs to be lifted, and open one-to-one communication encouraged so an employee’s supervisor can pave the way.

Discussion Questions

  1. If information about compensation is best presented to the employee by their manager, what role can HR play in supporting the communication roll out strategy?
  2. Develop an outline of a training program for managers to discuss compensation with their employees.

Work to Earn?

Profit-seeking concept with businessman runs for a bag of money hanging on a fishing tackle
Who is Danny/Shutterstock

“What would you do if your income were taken care of?”

This is the question that many European countries are asking of its citizens. Finland has answered this question by providing a basic guaranteed income to its unemployed workforce as a strategic initiative during challenging and changing economic times.


Click here to view the video about the guaranteed income plan in Finland. 

As noted in this video clip, the guaranteed income scheme is an experiment based on the compensation concepts of motivation and rewards. In this case, the reward provided by a guaranteed income for two years should act as a motivator to those who are unemployed. It allows them to take on a low-paying job without having to file reports or pay back the government income.

It seems that this incentive plan is based on the positive pull of income as reward. If a basic income is guaranteed, will a person want to increase the level of their potential rewards by taking on low-paying work without risk of losing the guaranteed pay? Does a guaranteed reward lead to motivation for more rewards?

On the other hand, as mentioned in the clip, if the person wants to stay on the couch and do nothing for two years, they have that choice as well. Will the guaranteed income represent a reward for doing nothing?

The hope, or theory, is that the pull of positive potential should outweigh the drag of negative inertia.

If Canadians were able to build a similar strategy built on possibilities and belief in human potential, how far could it go?

In a Canadian context, if such a plan could be offered to our own unemployed workforce, perhaps it would allow for young workers to take on unpaid internships; for workers displaced by automation to try something new that builds on unused skills; for older workers who have been laid off, to become productive again instead of discarded and left out.

No matter what the outcome will be over the next two years in Finland, this innovative experiment exploring the basic links between the value of work and the value of rewards will likely have impact around the world.

Discussion Questions:

  1. If you had a basic guaranteed income for the next two years, what choices would you make to improve your current situation?
  2. In a Canadian context, how could employers benefit from a basic guaranteed income strategy?
  3. What are the risks associated with this experiment?