I want to provide for myself & my family is often most prominent in our thinking when our status is unemployed or under-employed. The more desperate we feel about paying our bills or getting access to health insurance, the less selective we are about the company's qualities or the position. In Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, this is the base of the pyramid—physiological and safety needs. According to Maslow, these needs are foundational for all humans.
Do you remember preparing for your first day at a new job? I remember dressing to impress. I was awake early, took great care with my hair and makeup, and arrived almost thirty minutes early. [Honestly, I still do this when meeting with new clients.] My focus was items #2 & 3, showing my best self and being accepted. I wanted to prove that I was good enough and be welcomed and embraced by my new employer and co-workers. Maslow called this third level belonging.
Maslow's next level, esteem, focuses on our desire to be appreciated. We all share the need to be recognized and valued by others. Fulfilling this need is vital to retaining your best employees.
Once we feel confident and appreciated, we can pursue item #5--I want to make a difference. This pinnacle is where we are our most creative and able to express our full potential. Correspondingly, this also means that we offer our best selves to the benefit of our employer.
Maslow gave us a clear and concise framework for understanding the levers available to us as employers. Mental health at work isn't just about individuals. Culture and environment enable positive mental health and maximum personal contribution, but it doesn't happen accidentally.
Consider these examples of unhealthy norms at work.
😒Employers who pay low wages, limit employee hours or fail to provide a consistent schedule trap their employees in concern for their physiological needs.
👿Supervisors who use intimidation and verbal abuse to control employees confine those employees to focus on their safety needs.
😨Managers who create competition within the workgroup and use derogatory speech to and about others restrain their team from moving beyond questions of belonging.
😩Leaders who focus on deficits instead of leveraging strengths, chip away at their people's ability to maintain self-esteem.
These are all examples of toxic work environments which cause stress, anxiety, and burnout. Toxic work environments are unhealthy, unstable, and costly.
As you reflect on mental health this month, it is an excellent time to reacquaint yourself with Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. Constructing a healthy work environment in which people bring their personal best every day requires attention to each level and crafting a culture that supports and maintains psychological safety.