How Maslow’s Theory Stands Up Today

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

By Lori Jazvac.

Do you ever wonder why some clients leave their roles after only a few weeks or months while others remain in the same role for years? As career practitioners, we can use Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to identify and weigh our clients’ career values and engagement levels as they encounter the various stages of the hierarchy. Although now over 75 years old, Maslow’s theory stands up today.

Maslow’s Hierarchy suggests that self-actualization is a driving force for humans, but we can’t (and should not) attempt to help all clients reach this pinnacle. If you encounter a client who is prepared for and focused on reaching a higher level in their profession, that person may be ready for self-actualization

However, another client may have much more basic needs, such as requiring money to pay for food or housing. Basic needs must be fulfilled before the client can even think about striving for loftier goals.

The Value of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

  • Maslow’s model enables us to think more creatively and strategically as practitioners.
  • It helps us and our clients understand career development plans, practices, goals, and experiences.
  • It empowers us with the knowledge needed to identify interests, skill sets, strengths, and values.
  • This information will allow us to better prepare our clients for suitable roles that are aligned with their career needs, while helping them to unleash their potential.

Here is how you might consider each level:

Survival (Physiological)

If your client is in survival mode, the focus is mainly on “making a living.” This may be your client’s primary reason for acquiring and remaining in a job. Remind your client that while compensation is of primary importance, balancing physiological needs with learning and continuous improvement may help stabilize the situation, enhance job satisfaction, and create appropriate opportunities for the future.


Do factors such as overtime, the number of sick days allowed, and quality of working conditions pose a concern for your client? If your client desires security, he or she may be doing only what is expected in the role due to not feeling fully supported or recognized.  Find out how your client is being affected by a need for greater security and what can be done to gain support to meet these needs. Help your client to be assertive and set realistic goals. Encourage your client to get involved in improving conditions or health/safety policies at work or in the community whenever possible. Balance the need for security with other needs through compromise.

Belonging (Social)

If your client is somewhat, but not fully engaged in a role, he or she might be lacking a sense of belonging. The client may want to feel part of the team. However, if better prospects are found elsewhere, choosing to leave the organization will reflect an attractive choice to advancement. Encourage your client to not make rash decisions, but rather focus on building stronger relationships. Getting involved on a board or social event planning committee to work towards a shared goal can increase inclusiveness, collaboration, and morale.


If self-esteem is important to your client, there is a need to be perceived as a vital contributor to the organization. The option to leave the organization may prove attractive if a more celebrated opportunity arises. Reaffirm your client’s unique value with positive reinforcement. Encourage him or her to contribute in leadership roles to boost confidence. Motivate your client to help others in the community in a cause he or she truly believes in. Suggest a fun course or hobby that will ignite your client’s passion while allowing him or her to tap into a “creative side” and take some positive risks.


A client who has reached self-actualization is typically an all-star performer who is highly engaged and aligned with the organization’s mission. With an authentic passion for his or her career, this client takes pride in championing fellow team members to excel. Encourage your client to invest in continuous learning, sharing, and mentoring. The key is to never rest on your laurels – there is always room for more growth and innovation.

Maslow equipped us with an insightful human motivation model that helps us learn more about each client’s unique value and rationale for career choices. Here are some things to consider:

  • Every client has different needs and values that drive the motivation for working in a certain role, field, organization, or a specific team.
  • More than one competing factor and/or element is likely to shape your client’s career.
  • Consider all aspects of your client’s life using a “whole person approach” before making rash decisions about career choices.
  • Not all situations for all clients fit neatly into Maslow’s theory.
  • No theory is without limitations or can offer “ready-made” career solutions.

Career exploration and decision-making requires a focused strategy, time, and patience. By understanding career development from various perspectives, asking relevant coaching questions, and encouraging brainstorming and story-telling, we can gently guide our clients toward the path of self-discovery in their career journeys.

To learn more about career development theories, consider enrolling in CPC’s Career Development Foundations online course.


Career Development Foundations Certificate Course - Register Now




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How is status motive a major motivator of career growth in organisation?