A Critical View of Maslow’s Theory in Management

During the last decades, Abraham Maslow’s «Hierarchy of Human Needs» theory has remained a popular technique in corporate management. The presented principles of motivating workers to raise productivity seem to be intuitively logical, illustrative, and universally applicable. However, within the historical development of humanity, the personal perception of workers modifies, and new structures of the work process are developed. As a result, some points of Maslow’s theory lose their efficiency and relevance. This paper will provide criticism of managerial approaches based on the «Needs Theory» regarding employees’ differences and trends for group dynamics in collective work.

Maslow’s theory was initially spread in the managerial field because it conveniently complied with the concept of career. It was discovered that employees usually obtain specific purposes of their jobs that correspond with different levels of the hierarchy of human needs. As it is mentioned by Bridgman, Cummings, & Ballard (2018), «managers should understand where each of their employees is located on the pyramid and tailor their roles accordingly» (p. 82). Thus, workers concerned about their physiological well-being will remain consistently productive, while those interested in self-fulfillment will strive for career growth and introduce creativity. According to this strategy, each worker acquires an opportunity to fulfill their interests, and the company itself profits while keeping a balance between individuality and uniformity.

Despite the perceived consistency, the practice of this motivational theory has shown some ongoing issues. The mechanism of human inducement is more complex than reaching for one need at a time. A person’s behavior is determined by multiple factors from various «steps» of Maslow’s pyramid simultaneously. Additionally, Bridgman et al. (2018) refer to the fact that «a satisfied need is no longer a motivator of behavior» (p. 93), which brings the point that a career path cannot be persistent or steady. It is essential to mention that the sequence in which needs appear for every employee cannot be predicted, as it is a firmly personal psychological aspect. With all of these imprecisions, Maslow’s theory might not fit into the current standards of individualism expected from companies.

With the introduction of new working strategies based on projects, another impediment arises: group dynamics are not similar to personal intentions. When forming a team to implement a particular task, the members are selected according to the group’s needs and not their own. Consequently, further appearing motivators are collective; they reflect the team’s common goal. It is also important to realize that competitiveness subsides in group work since the prospect of promotion is generally absent and team members’ positions are made equal on purpose. Certainly, the group leader is usually distinct from other participants. Still, it can be discussed whether he satisfies higher needs of self-actualization or implements esteem needs only in a different way. These points allow presuming the ineffectiveness of human needs theory in collective assignments since the general pursuit of equality excludes individual desires.

To summarize, mentioned above deficiencies prove that Maslow’s ideas cannot conform to every managerial standard in existence. The employees display a lack of consistency and predictability in their needs, while the newly introduced tendencies for collective work eliminate the relevance of personal motivation almost entirely. With all of this in mind, it can be stated that the suggested technique of establishing one’s career perspective is not universal for modern companies. It should be presented only as a simplified example of theoretical managerial practices.


Bridgman, T., Cummings, S., & Ballard, J. (2018). Who built Maslow’s pyramid? A history of the creation of management studies’ most famous symbol and its implications for management education. Academy of management learning & education, 18(1), 81-98. Web.

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