72% of U.S. based workers do not possess a sense of purpose in their roles at work.

Let that sink in. A lot of us are out there engaging with our work like transactions, or something that exists to meet our basic needs of food and shelter. But our jobs can be more than that. They can offer us purpose and help us achieve a self-actualized experience.

What is that experience?

Abraham Maslow proposed a theory of needs, which states that human beings have five levels of needs. Individuals must satisfy the lower level needs (physiological and safety) before progressing on to meet higher level growth needs. The needs and how they look like in the work realm are:

  • Physiological. These are biological requirements for human survival, which if not satisfied, the body cannot function optimally. The needs are sleep, food, water, breathing, homeostasis, and sex. At work, this could be a comfortable physical workspace that’s conducive to productivity.
  • Safety. It is protection from elements, security, order, stability, and freedom from fear. This involves security of body, of employment, health, resources, and family. Think fair remuneration, clearly defined roles, good benefits. It also refers to emotional safety – no harassment, equality, etc.
  • Belonging. The third level of needs is social and involves interpersonal relationships that motivate positive workplace behavior. Think work camaraderie, mentorship, teamwork, companionate love, etc. It’s also about affiliating – being part of a group and feeling included. The diversity and inclusion efforts of an organization address this need.
  • Esteem. This is classified into two categories: esteem for oneself (dignity, achievement, mastery, independence) and the desire for reputation or respect from others (e.g., status, prestige). This adds up to our identity at work.
  • Self-actualization. It involves realizing personal potential, self-fulfillment, seeking personal growth, and peak experiences. Or as Maslow said, “To become everything one is capable of becoming.” Here is where we can talk about morality, creativity, problem-solving, and working on our biases. 

The journey to self-actualization at work

Maslow once stated that business leaders “Can set-up conditions so that peak experiences are more likely, or one can perversely set up the conditions so that they are less likely.” Leaders are often hyper-focused on the first two levels of needs, as they are more tangible and easier to provide for. But they also expect this to lead to the self-actualized workplace. Maybe that’s why employees get disengaged, the environment gets toxic, and people leave. The company’s culture can play a crucial role in preventing this. The development of that culture begins at the third level, of belonging needs.

Curious about how it leads towards self-actualization for employees? Come back for our next post.

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