Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs: Its Effects and Criticisms

Psychologist Abraham Maslow developed the needs model of motivation called Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.  The hierarchy is usually visualized as a triangle with physiological needs such as shelter, food, and water at the bottom, then it works up through safety needs, love and belonging needs, esteem needs, and self-actualization needs at the top (McLeod, 2020). 

Effects and Relevance 

Maslow’s theory is extremely relevant as the needs that he categorized accurately paint a picture of a progression of motivations across the continuum of an individual’s life.  Its effect is that it embraces positive mental health and identifies self-actualization as the pinnacle goal of an individual (Jeffrey, n.d.). 

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs illustrates how people can be motivated based on need, but this extends to teams and organizations as well.  After all, they are simply diverse groups of people, each motivated by their own sets of needs.  The theory also enables managers to target personal growth as a motivator for employees. 

As one moves up the hierarchy from physiological (survival) needs toward self-actualization, the motivators move from extrinsic rewards to intrinsic rewards.  Where survival may require money and benefits, esteem and self-actualization are intrinsic motivators (McLeod, 2020).  As a manager, this is important to understand, as it shows that factors like pay and benefits are still important as a platform for the stability of the hierarchy, but once those base factors are satisfied, a company can motivate the team heavily through scratching the esteem and self-actualization itch within the employees. 


Being an irrational approach to motivation (Jeffrey, n.d.), ideas such as self-actualization are hard to quantify and define and are thus prone to bias.  Another criticism is that the hierarchy of needs does not have to be followed in order and some people may be striving to fulfill multiple needs (such as esteem and belonging needs) at once.  Another criticism is that the needs are continuous and ongoing, so someone seeking self-actualization still focuses on reputation and esteem, still focuses on maintaining and seeking out relationships, and so on (McLeod, 2020). 

How it Affects Me 

My motivations, looking at Maslow’s pyramid, are very tied to personal needs.  When my company goes through transitions, I am highly motivated to secure my physiological and safety needs.  I am always maintaining and investing in my relationships to satisfy my social needs.  Reputation management, building respect, and self-esteem are important to me.  Maslow’s hierarchy is extremely applicable to me in my current situation. 

One thing of note:  It is not a linear progression, for me, to satisfy these needs.  I am constantly addressing threats to these needs.  Possibility of losing my job causes me to seek safety.  Arguments or problems in social circles cause me to see belonging.  Dings to my self-esteem cause me continually to seek out opportunities to be more valuable.  These are all continuous, all the time. 


Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is still relevant.  While it may not be as representative or accurate as other theories and models of motivation, it accurately represents the needs that an individual has and must satisfy.  It is useful to understand those needs in order to empathize and understand people when in relationships or in management, to feel out the needs of a coworker, subordinate, or friend. 


Jeffrey, S. (n.d.). The Ultimate Guide to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs for Understanding Motivation. Retrieved from 

McLeod, S. (2020, December 29). Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Retrieved from 

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