Pay attention to “lower level” needs for good performance

Published by tim-isherwood on

How much attention should we pay to our ‘lower level needs” as outlined in Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs? These can be described as:

  • Physiological needs meaning food, water & homeostasis.
  • Safety needs meaning order stability, health & wellbeing.
  • Social needs meaning friendship, family & intimacy.

Personally I think we neglect these needs at our peril both for our own health & survival and for the efficiency of our company’s strategy. If you are dependent on the performance of individuals for your company’s survival then they must be meeting their lower level needs – EVERY DAY. Let us for a moment consider food as being one of the phsiological needs:

I volunteer as a primary school swimming teacher. One class I teach arrives at the pool first thing in the morning, dropped off by their parents. These children are in year three so they are mostly 8 years old. Some of these children arrive at the pool without having had their breakfast or even a good nights sleep – believe me you can tell.

After the lesson we have to walk back to school in what I call crocodile formation but what the children describe as a walking bus. The main topic of conversation, whilst on our walking bus, is whether or not we will arrive back at school in time for snack, as for some children this will be their first food of the day.

In my work as a strategy consultant and I frequently come across people who have arrived at work without having eaten breakfast and not having slept well the night before – believe me it is easier to tell the adults who haven’t eaten or slept than it is the children at swimming. These people talk about coffee and grabbing a croissant from a nearby cafe most of their time.

I regularly conduct health awareness sessions with company employees and prior to each session I ask delegates to complete a questionnaire about their health, this is designed to get them thinking about their own health in a variety of ways. One question I ask is “do you eat breakfast?”. On average 22% of respondents do not eat breakfast.

In both these situations, the school swimming lesson and the company workplace, it is difficult for those involved to think about the purpose at hand. So, let’s just think about both these situations:

In the first example, you would be right to feel sorry for the children who, having not eaten, are expected to go through quite strenuous physical exercise and then walk back to school. You might say this shouldn’t be allowed to happen.

In the second example, you probably think that this is quite normal and therefore acceptable, after all they are adults.

I believe that both situations are unacceptable, this type of behaviour puts us all at some level of risk. This lifestyle with a lack of attention to our basic needs has a serious negative impact on our performance and it is a growing problem. One of the manifestations of this type of lifestyle is a deterioration in our wellbeing. Unfortunately most people advising on how to improve wellbeing do not see the need to address lower level needs, they see issues such as flexible working having the greatest impact and, whilst these may be important for your company, they will have no impact if lower level needs are not being met.

It was in 1943 that Abraham Maslow described his theory of human motivation, most frequently called Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Let’s just look at what Maslow said about hunger within his thoughts on our physiological needs:

“For the man who is extremely and dangerously hungry, no other interests exist but food. He dreams food, he remembers food, he thinks about food, he emotes only about food.”

Abraham Maslow: A Theory of Human Motivation. ISBN 13:978-1-62755-492-3

Of course food is not the only need but it does provide a good example. It is vital for successful company strategy that our needs, at all levels are being met. In many instances this comes down to the individual but it becomes a lot easier if there is support from the company.

Company business will come a distant second if the lower level needs of all of us are not met every single day.


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