Maslow’s Hierarchy of Employee Engagement

How do you foster employee engagement? How do you know the best way to motivate an employee to be more productive? What about team building; what’s getting in the way of those connections? The answers are all in the pyramid above; Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

Employees, teams, and organizations are all operating at a different level of this hierarchy and at different levels of employee engagement. Some team members might have all their basic needs met and next want to meet their need for belonging. By contrast, others might be unable to pay their bills with the wage they make. Because of this we must meet people at the level they are at on the hierarchy. If we do not then efforts to motivate and engage will not be effective. I often use the example here that if someone is unable to pay their bills and they feel unsafe at work a team building exercise is going to fall flat. Why? Because they are not operating at that level.  

Getting Started: Basic Needs

Where to start? Let’s start at the bottom; we must begin by addressing the most basic needs of an employee. Only then will we have any hope of creating an engaged team. Employees who are not having their basic needs met will be the ones most likely to be actively disengaged. This means that they will actively work against the purpose and goals of the business. These are the employees who are giving food away for free, sneaking money from the register, and calling out “sick” on the busiest night of the week. In the white collar world, these are the employees who do the bare minimum to not get fired. They show up late and leave early. They waste time at their desks looking at social media. These employees will jump at the chance to talk trash about the company.

What is needed to no longer be actively disengaged?

  • Food and water (aka money to eat and feed your family)
  • Shelter (aka the money to pay your rent and live in a safe and secure location)
  • Rest (aka time to recover and get enough sleep)
  • Equitable treatment of workers (aka fair application of rules)
  • Job security (aka not in fear of job loss)
  • Safety
  • Medical Coverage (aka can go to the doctor when needed)

These are folks who will feel neutral about the organization, their job, and their coworkers. They aren’t likely to steal time or miss deadlines. That said, you can be sure that they won’t be going above and beyond.

Moving From Neutrality to Engagement

To move from neutrality to actual engagement more is needed:

  • Comradery (aka connection to your coworkers)
  • Inclusivity (aka you can bring your whole self to work)
  • Lack of office politics (aka no favoritism)
  • Culture of collaboration and respect (aka fair chance to contribute and have your ideas respected)
  • Reasonable independence (aka not micromanaged)
  • Fair and effective performance management (aka you know where you stand in terms of your performance)
  • Opportunity to grow and develop

These are the employees who will go above and beyond. They will feel energized by their work and have a clear line if site to the top goals of the organization. They will also see how their contribution helps make those goals a reality. These employees will feel a sense of balance in their lives between work and home, see a previously posted article on this here:

Outlined below is the “anatomy of an engaged employee”:

The Next Level – High Engagement

This is the point where an organization’s mission, purpose, vision, and values become extra important. If the organization exists for a higher purpose and is on a mission to fulfill that purpose and make their vision a reality by living their core values, it has long-term potential. The employees who connect with all of the above are the ones who become highly engaged. They are the ones who will work nonstop to make sure that the business is successful. This is where true employee engagement happens.


Engaged employees drive high-performing organizations. That’s why understanding employee engagement is critical to long-term business success.

  • Meet the basic needs of your employees
    • Pay them enough to cover their bills and give them down time
    • Foster a stable environment of consistency and fairness
    • Make sure they feel safe and can go to the doctor as needed
  • Meet the psychological needs of your employees
    • Create the space/time for comradery and connection
    • Create a culture of inclusivity, collaboration and respect
    • Give employees clear goals and expectations
    • Empower them to get the job done
    • Ensure employees always know where they stand in terms of performance
    • Give employees the ongoing opportunity to grow and develop
  • To unlock the highest level of engagement within your organization:
    • Have a virtuous purpose/mission for existing in the first place
    • Have a strong set of core values that you use to guide your action towards that purpose/mission
    • Hire and engage employees that identify with that purpose/mission and core values

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