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Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs and How It Can Help Staff Retention

"It is quite true that man lives by bread alone — when there is no bread. But what happens to man’s desires when there is plenty of bread and when his belly is chronically filled?”

“At once other (and “higher”) needs emerge and these, rather than physiological hungers, dominate the organism. And when these in turn are satisfied, again new (and still “higher”) needs emerge and so on. This is what we mean by saying that the basic human needs are organized into a hierarchy of relative prepotency" (Maslow, 1943, p. 375).

It’s a big ol topic in today’s world. Not just in the hospitality industry but globally, we’re feeling the lingering aches of Covid with a huge staff shortage problem. It’s a tricky one to solve, but one thing you can do is work to retain your precious staff to secure them! 


Hospitality generally has a reputation for a high staff turnover. Especially in New Zealand, it’s still a sector where it’s not necessarily regarded highly as a career (though we challenge anyone and everyone to spend a week in our shoes!). There’s a few things we can identify and fix to ensure that staff feel valued, safe and respected. 


Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is the crux of this article. It’s my go to for introducing managers and leaders to the topic of retaining key staff. Whether you’re an employee or employer, this is going to make a whole lot of sense to you, and help you understand why you perhaps feel unfulfilled in your role or why your staff don’t stick around as long as you’d like. 


Here’s a nice visual I found to display the basics: 

At the bottom of the triangle, the most important and founding factors are things that will make employees feel secure and safe. Our physiological needs are the basic things we need to survive; food, water, shelter etc etc. We often overlook these things for our employees. But if an employee is struggling with finding a rental or putting food on the table for their family, then their focus and motivation in their job is put to the bottom of their priority list. This is literally, human instinct in order to survive. But perhaps it’s not instinct to check in on these things. 


Next up, safety needs. Once your employees physiological needs are met, safety needs become the focus. These needs have to do with our natural desire for a routine in a predictable, orderly world that seems to be in our control. Safety needs in the modern world can manifest themselves as job security, savings accounts, insurance policies, financial security, and health and well-being. 


These two blocks create the basic needs. Now once they’re met, an employee looks to psychological needs. Belongingness and esteem. 


Both these blocks could be interpreted around culture in the workplace. Creating a fun, respectful, cooperative environment where employees can learn, have a laugh and enjoy working together will help with staff retention. If they love it, they’ll stay! But as we are all understaffed, we seem to be losing touch on this one a bit - overworking staff to burnout simply because we have to, forgetting to check in, not having time to allow staff to upskill or train during work. How can you get around this? Be honest with your team. Let them know about your plans for them to upskill and grow in their employment with you. Or perhaps, reward the team with a gift voucher, bonus, shout them a meal to say thank you for working so hard in this tough period. And then once you’ve got more staff, time and flexibility, put some good systems in place to ensure staff are filling their cup on belongingness and esteem!


Finally, at the top and after all the below are met, employees start to think about self actualisation needs. “Is this really what I want to be doing with my life?”, “Could I do better?” - these big boy questions get asked internally. And if your business can’t reassure employees that they can achieve their full potential with you, then these needs won’t be met. It’s a good idea to show your team how they can progress with you, upskill, get rewarded and stay happy and successful as part of your team. 


If you’ve got a topic you’d like to see discussed let us help you out at Treat NZ! We’re here to help hospo!

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