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February 21, 2017
Culture  |  9 min read

Are You Ignoring The Employee Hierarchy of Needs?

A key part of any college Psychology 100 class is a brief study of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which is certainly the most widely understood framework for describing human motivation. In case you skipped that class on Maslow, or it’s been awhile, let me offer a quick review

In the 1940s, Abraham Maslow taught that every human being has five basic human needs.  They are as follows:


We need to eat, breathe, and sleep. The physiological need is survival. It is powerful and foundational.


Though we are willing to sacrifice safety to meet our physiological needs, once those needs are met our next goal is to establish a secure environment. Do we have what we need for sustainable personal and financial security?

Love and belonging

It isn’t until we have our first two needs met that we can give adequate attention to our need to be loved. We all need friends and family. We want to feel a part of a group with whom we share a common set of beliefs and values. We all long to feel connected. 


After we have a place in a group, we next seek to find a valuable place within the group, to earn the respect of those around us. Not only do we seek the respect of others but we also long for a healthy self-respect as well.


Our final desire is to achieve one’s potential, to push back our personal horizons to see what is possible. This is the part of us that wants to create a work of art, become a better parent, or to start a non-profit. At some level, we all want to leave a more lasting legacy and to find a unique meaning in our life. 

As the dream manager at Infusionsoft, I work primarily with the fun part of Maslow’s pyramid.  I get to talk with the employees at Infusionsoft about their dreams, which almost always live in the top two tiers of Maslow’s hierarchy.  Esteem (my dream is to get in shape or to get a promotion) and self-actualization (my dream is to write a book or to travel the world).

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However, as I worked to encourage more employees in the company to dream, I discovered that in certain pockets there was something missing in our culture—something that created dreaming dead zones.  

As I investigated, like Maslow, I found that the places where conversations about esteem and self-actualization were absent there were more fundamental needs that weren’t being met. It occurred to me that the best work environments are those that are able to provide a space where all of our fundamental needs are met. This is the essence of a great work culture and, to the degree we don’t provide that culture, human nature will push our employees out the door looking for better opportunities.

So I present, Dan’s Hierarchy of Employee Needs.  

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Too often as employers, we forget that in every interaction with employees their livelihood (their ability to eat food) is at stake. Our first obligation in creating a great culture is to compensate our employees in a way that is both adequate and predictable.  

To be adequate, compensation needs to be enough to provide for the needs of individuals and their family. You might ask yourself: Does the compensation we offer provide for the basic needs of our employees? What is the level of financial stress in the lives of our employees? 

It is extremely important that pay is predictable. Do paychecks always come out the same way and at the same time? Do bonus structures make sense to employees, and are they within their control? The predictability engenders trust, and only when there is nearly a perfect trust can employees leave the compensation question behind and move on to focus on their next need.


In a work environment, the next employee need is trusting the organization. Our minds long for certainty and consistency; trust comes when we are able to predict with some level of accuracy what will come next. In other words, we want to feel safe that nothing bad will jump out at us.

Creating an environment of trust shows up in hundreds of moments, but there are some key things we can do to help our employees feel safe. We can assure that employees: 

  • Know what’s expected of them and how it will be measured
  • Feel that they will be treated fairly and with respect
  • Work in a safe environment both physically and emotionally

When our employees don’t feel safe, they will look to find a place where they can.  

Now for generations, jobs were only intended to service the first two levels of the Employee Hierarchy. As long as I was compensated fairly and was treated with decency that is as much as I could expect. However, as competition for talent grows and employees have more options, we have to continue up the pyramid to stay competitive.


More and more employees are searching not only for a place that pays well and that will be fair but also for a place that they can believe in and a group with—a place with shared values. At Infusionsoft, we pride ourselves being a company that has a clearly defined purpose, “To help small businesses succeed,” and a well-entrenched set of values.  

The result: We attract employees away from other companies that don’t have that same advantage. In some cases, new hires have been willing to take a pay cut to join Infusionsoft because they wanted to be a part of something they believe in.  

More business books that we can count talk about the importance of a company mission, purpose, and values. Before it was nice to have; now it is a necessity!


The particularly talented employees—the ones that it would be the biggest blow to lose— are looking for something more. They are not only searching for a place where they can belong but also a place where they can contribute, where they can make a difference, particularly in an area where they demonstrate native genius or ability. 

Remember, esteem includes being both valued by the group and by yourself. This means as an employee I need to not only discover a place where the company values my contribution but also where I feel like I am put to my highest and best use. I want my talents to be leveraged and even multiplied.


The final expression of evolved company culture is a shift in the relationship between employer and employee. No longer is the employee only there to serve the company but the company also takes an interest in the dreams and aspirations of the employee. As Shawn Vanderhoven calls it, they create “mutually transformative relationships.” This is a relationship in which the company is benefited significantly by the employee’s contributions but also the employee experiences significant personal growth.  

At Infusionsoft, one manifestation of this part of our culture is the dreaming program. We encourage employees to identify, articulate, and accomplish personal ambitions. Things like traveling to different parts of the world, purchasing a home, learning a language, or even starting their own business. Our hope is that employees at Infusionsoft find their work here not only enjoyable but also transformational.   

Understanding this employee hierarchy of needs has given us an awesome lens through which we can see where our company culture is falling short. So take a moment and consider where some of the fundamental needs of your employees are not being met and you can quickly identify how ramp up your culture and engagement.

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Dan Ralphs, Infusionsoft dream manager, is responsible for helping Infusionites discover and rediscover their dreams, then help them map out a path to make it a reality.

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