The foundation of Maslow’s work is his Hierarchy of Needs. This presumes that the human being is a perpetually wanting animal that rarely reaches a state of complete satisfaction. When one desire is satisfied, another pops up to take its place. Hence, once one desire is satisfied, it is no longer a motivator of behaviour, and we become driven by something new.
Maslow’s pyramid had five groups of needs, which can be grouped together as follows:
Basic needs: These are our physiological needs, so we don’t go hungry (food, water, shelter), and our safety needs in order to feel secure.
Psychological needs: These include the feeling of belonging, connection with friends and loved ones, and the feeling of accomplishment.
Self-fulfilment: Living to our full potential.
We start at the bottom and work our way up. No point focusing on love and relationships if we don’t have food in the fridge. No point in working on activities that could contribute to our self-esteem when we’re lacking safety and security.
In order to get the most out of life, we build our way up the pyramid—locking in the base layer first, then building sequentially upon each previously satisfied need until we get to the pointy bit up top. Without the support of the lower foundation, our pyramid will topple.
Maslow’s pyramid is broadly applicable across all human activities. One possible application is to link it to the ‘work’ context. We can apply this to the workplace and see how an employee can climb the (metaphorical) pyramid. The three equivalent levels of our “work” pyramid would be: money, recognition, and meaning.
Some not-for-profit organisations may assume the whole employee experience is the sense of meaning they get in the workplace. But this is trying to get straight to the top of the pyramid without building a solid foundation.
If they aren’t getting paid enough money to cover rent and groceries, or they’re not getting the recognition they deserve for doing a good job, employees will never get to the top of the pyramid and can never connect with the meaning that may be on offer.
Three bricklayers were working on the side of the road. An old lady walking her dog strolled past and asked what they were up to.
The first man replied: “Making a wage.” The second said: “I am doing the best bricklaying job in the country.” And the final proclaimed: “I’m building a grand cathedral to spread messages of light and positivity.”
The first was operating at the base of the pyramid, focusing on basic needs. People who view their work as a ‘job’ tend to focus on the financial rewards of working rather than pleasure or fulfilment. The job is for money, and they try and find enjoyment outside of their 9-5 existences.
The second was in the middle of the pyramid, focused on psychological needs (status and recognition). Those who view their work as a ‘career’ focus primarily on advancement and growing their talent.
Whilst they gain some satisfaction from the work itself, their esteem often comes from external sources like a promotion or a raise.
The third man was at the top of the pyramid living out a self-actualised life. Those lucky enough to pursue a ‘calling’ find meaning and fulfilment through their work, regardless of money or recognition.
How do you know which level you are?
At the job level, you might say something like this: I like what I do, but don’t expect much from work. I enjoy my leisure life more than my work life. I’m often not excited about work on a Monday. I consciously use vacation time and sick days to create balance so that work doesn’t dominate. If you’re in a career, it goes a little like this: My greatest experience at work is when I’m recognised by others. My goal in life is to rise to the top of my field. I will do what it takes to become a success in my work.
And if you’re following your calling, it feels like this: I tend to lose myself at work. I just feel like I’m in flow and lose a sense of time. My work makes a difference in the world. I feel my work allows me to show the real me. It might be a revelation to realise your current work pyramid puts you in the job or career category.
If this is the honest truth, it may be time to find a new pyramid, scale it to the top, and tap into your calling.
Excerpted from Attitude: The Sh*t They Never Taught You, by Adam Ashton and Adam Jones, with permission from Penguin Random House.