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  • Writer's pictureShafinaz Shaikh

Incentivizing Employees The Psychological Way

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is honestly a fancy-sounding psychology theory, but applying it in the workplace can prove to contribute towards one happy, stable, and most importantly, an efficient business.


“We always want more”, “What we have is never enough”, “You can never achieve satisfaction in life”. These are a few phrases we’ve probably said and most definitely heard. If this is such a recurring thought, have you ever wondered why that statement is in fact, true? Of course, there is a professional psychologist who has put in the hours in order to get to the bottom of the ‘eternal thirst of mankind’. Let’s dive deeper into what it is, and how it affects the price of Apple Products!


The hierarchy of needs, a theory devised by Abraham Maslow in 1943 sets out what humans perceive as ‘satisfaction’. Given that it is a hierarchy, the ‘needs’ are often represented as a pyramid.

When we begin to work our way up, the first thing to consider is ‘Physiological Needs’. This level of the pyramid refers to our most basic desires. They include the need to eat, drink, sleep, and breathe. Only when we have a good night’s sleep in our ‘shelter’ and our hunger satisfied, do we begin to think about the world which exists beyond us. When applied to a person working shifts as an employee, their main concern is to have an adequate pay which helps them maintain a constant supply of essentials.


Now, we worry about what might harm us, or what we might need in the near future. ‘Safety Needs’, therefore, motivates us to gather resources. In the modern age of employees and education, our main focus at this stage tends to be job security. This helps us feel safe about life and keeps us from worrying about ‘what if I lose all my money and turn homeless?’. Once we know that our standard of life is going to be sustained or even made better, we turn to find companionship.


Although not usually defined by a person’s job, what we try to satisfy is our ‘Social Needs’. These include a sense of belonging and having contacts with people, along with friendships and relationships. What this means, is if a person working for a satisfactory amount of salary will try to feel involved in a workplace. Managers and colleagues who make them feel like outcasts, or in general not worthy or stupid, will not help them improve their motivation towards work. It will all make them feel like the job is not worth it, thus ruining their job-satisfaction and performance.


If a person has an appropriate income and a healthy social life, they then think of gaining their peers strength, respect, and confidence. To say it simply, they work towards their ‘Esteem Needs’. When we reach this stage, the motivation to ‘be the best’, ‘be in charge’ and ‘be the one people look up to’ is at its peak. In the previous stages, a person feels as if they’re a part of a group, thus the need to stand out and be different slithers its way into our lives. A person who has been working as a full-time sales officer, who already has the money and the social life they need might turn to admiring the control and responsibility possessed by the Marketing Manager. Becoming a person of higher - than - usual status and prestige might look like it’s the final human desire, but there is yet another stage left.


Only after we feel alive, after we feel secure, after we feel a sense of belonging while feeling special, can we reach the 5th stage of the Hierarchy of Needs. ‘Self-Actualization’. At this level, one can feel relaxed, feel no pressure or anxiety or worries. Here we can be as creative as we want and accept facts for what they are. Basically, we can do whatever we want. Basically, we can give and spend what we feel like. Basically, life seems perfect. But things aren’t so basic after all, are they? It’s hard to reach this level of enlightenment, if not impossible. This stage is where we all want to – eventually – be. Usually, people on this stage cannot be motivated by anything else – they already have what they desire (They make for a cannot – be – incentivized employee, to be honest). It all seems great at this stage, but if any of the lower level’s seem to be a bit unstable, you can face a pretty big fall.


So, all of this, boils down to one question: How does it help run a business? It’s pretty simply, to be honest. Recognizing that different people are motivated by a plethora of different reasons can help a manager make the workplace the best it can be. A college student working as Mc-Donald’s cashier, who just wants to afford spaghetti and rent for a week is at the lowest level. Offering a pay raise or a bonus will help him stay loyal and motivated at work. Offering him higher responsibility, on the other hand, will make him lose his temper. Someone who might appreciate this kind of non-financial intensive might be a sales-officer working at a paper company. (If you thought about Dwight Schrute from the show ‘The Office’, then good, as that was what I was trying to reference!) This is because this guy might be satisfied with the number on his paycheck and have a stable social life. At the 4th stage of the hierarchy, all he needs right now, is to be better and in charge of more things than his desk mate.


Motivating an employee, is what helps make a business efficient. Adopting different motivational strategies is what will make the employee work harder and make them happy working for you. Personalizing your methods of handing out incentives – whether it be financial or non-financial – always works best when the person you’re trying to motivate really needs what you’re giving! Rounding back to Apple, a few extra 0’s at the end of a software engineers pay cheque might motivate her. Or having a healthy work environment which makes her feel worthy might be something which motivates her. It truly depends on what she wants. Working to gain her final ‘incentive’ might inspire her to create some ground-breaking, never-before technology which actually lets Apple convince their customers to go the extra mile and pay a few extra grands!


And that’s how knowing your employees, and what stage of the hierarchy they currently belong to, can not only encourage them to go the extra mile, but it can also make you the best boss ever!

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