When psychologist Abraham Maslow explained his hierarchy of needs, he didn’t mention the modern-day workplace. Still, as humans, every employee is subject to the needs explained in Maslow’s hierarchy. We all need something from our jobs. At its core, the Maslow’s hierarchy is simple to understand. Applying it in the workplace can be a little more daunting.
In a nutshell, there are five layers in the hierarchy. The bottom two are physical needs followed by safety and security. In the workplace, these two layers get fulfilled with a paycheck and job security. Simply put, you can put food on the table, you have a roof over your head to go when you leave work and you’re not afraid of losing the roof over your head any time soon.
Only after those base layers are provided can you hope to provide your employees with the top three layers that I call BAM—belonging, affirmation and meaning.
As humans, we want to be a part of something. We’re hardwired to belong to groups. This means it’s natural for us to want to be a part of something greater than ourselves. Since we spend a majority of our time in the workplace, we instinctively want to identify with those around us.
A great way to create a sense of belonging in your company is by giving your people the opportunity for shared experiences. Build rituals for your tribe to help them form positive memories together. Perhaps that’s through a weekly outing to a local pub or an annual retreat.
The more shared experiences your tribe can build together, the stronger your tribe’s bond will be with each other.
Everyone likes to receive appreciation. As a leader, the tricky part is that not everyone likes to receive appreciation in the same way. It’s vital, as a leader, to understand how your employees like to receive appreciation before trying to affirm their work. For example, you may think recognizing someone for a job well done in front of the entire company is providing positive affirmation when the person going through it dreads the thought of going through the experience.
Providing affirmation as a leader doesn’t always have to be an individualistic approach, though. There are a couple tools you can start using today to help affirm your employees.
First, listen—really listen—to what your employees have to say. Try repeating back what you’ve heard so they know you were listening and not just waiting for your turn to talk. Another approach is to find ways to offer specific appreciation about why your employees are doing a great job. Instead of the generic, “Great job today!” try “That was a tough customer, but I appreciate you staying professional.”
The more specific you can get, the more it’ll be obvious to your employees that you’re taking the time to see the difference they’re making in the company.
Ultimately, everyone wants to feel as if their work means something. Being part of something greater means collectively doing something greater. As aspirational as this sounds, it can be achieved once the other layers of Maslow’s hierarchy are fulfilled.
One great way to provide meaning is to look for opportunities to clarify the bigger picture. A lot of companies share customer stories of how their company’s products and services help make their lives better for external marketing purposes. Internally, go one step further to help your people see how their work is playing a part in that positive change for your customers.
Encourage your employees to share their own stories. Help everyone throughout your company see how they and their colleagues have succeeded in making someone’s day better.
As a leader, the process of building and maintaining a culture that matters requires proactively looking for ways to help your tribe feel a sense of belonging, affirmation and meaning. Every company gives their employees a basic paycheck, but few go further to truly meet their team’s needs. When you create a culture of BAM to inspire your workers, you’re setting them up for success.
Piyush Patel, the best-selling author of Lead Your Tribe, Love Your Work, is an entrepreneur and an innovator in corporate culture with more than 20 years of experience. As the founder of Digital-Tutors, a world-leading online training company, he has helped educate more than one million students in digital animation, with clients including Pixar, Apple and NASA.
A former Northern Oklahoma College professor, Patel grew frustrated with outdated training materials, and launched a multi-million-dollar company from his living room.
Patel has since given a TedX, won numerous awards acknowledging his trend-setting entrepreneurship, and continues to advise and speak around the world.