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Redefining Maslow's Pyramid

Updated: Nov 3, 2023

An article by Cecilia Harvey

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

Admission: I am a huge Maslow fan… BUT one of the things that has always struck me since “getting to know” Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs, is where belonging sits. While he has identified it in tier 3, do you not agree that even the second tier - employment, property, family and social ability - contains elements of belonging? I believe that as humans, we are inherently social beings with a fundamental and instinctive need to be a part of something.

If we look at his pyramid though, what strikes me more is what we cannot achieve without it, and also the consequences of not being able to have that sense of belonging in our lives. Let’s start with the ones that we cannot really fulfil without it: self-esteem and self-actualisation. These two are so impactful if we transpose this theory and apply it in our workplaces. If we do not feel we belong, we, as employees will not be confident, will not willingly engage in team activities whether at work or outside of it, and we will not be prone to connecting with others let alone collaborating with them. Without self-esteem and knowledge that our contribution is valued, our mental health would be adversely impacted and we might be overwhelmed by feelings of hopelessness or inadequacy; our cognitive abilities questioned and maybe even challenged, our interaction with others fading away, which might lead to physical consequences, such as stress or exhaustion.

Furthermore, the consequences of not belonging also heavily impact the sense of purpose we have, impeding us to reach the last tier, which according to Maslow is the hardest to achieve. Not only that, but it also means we are less adaptable as we are less happy; research indicates a link between the positivity of our interactions with others and our ability to bounce back (in challenging or negative situations) – impacting our personal resilience and consequently, that of our teams and ultimately, our businesses (The secret To Building Resilience).

As and ED&I practitioner and subject matter expert, I spend a lot of time working with businesses to support them in understanding just how fundamental this need is. If our workplaces exclude, there will be people feeling that their very basic needs are not met, their mental and physical health might be impacted adversely and therefore their ability to thrive and give their best will be hugely impeded. As employers, we have a duty to ensure that we are intentionally inclusive so that every single one of our employees feels they belong, that they have a purpose and that their contribution, in whatever form and at whatever level, matters.

If I were to be able to re-design the pyramid, I think I would place belonging in tier 2 … not wanting to overthrow Maslow’s theory, but evolving it more into our times, where people feel disconnected, and there is now, more than ever, a huge desire for us to belong and ensure people - all people - feel they do too.


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