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Psychological Needs at Work: The Changing Hierarchy

In our last article about the changing hierarchy , we discussed the changing landscape of needs, how they translate in the corporate world, and how the current climate is affecting how we view our needs. In this second installment, we’ll explore psychological needs and how to adapt them in our ever-changing world. 

As a reminder, it was Abraham Maslow who brilliantly summarized these needs for your personal life and categorized them into basic, psychological, and growth needs. At the Maslow Centre, we’ve been researching how Maslow’s work can be translated into your professional life. You can see our work so far here, and about halfway down you’ll see a table of basic, psychological, and growth needs for the workplace.

This article is critical, because the area where most organizations are struggling is in psychological safety. There are a few definitions of psychological safety, but it all boils down to meeting belonging and esteem needs.

If your employees feel like they belong and have a sense of worthiness, they feel psychologically safe. If they don’t, you feel overlooked, undervalued, and unsafe.

More importantly, organizations cannot move into self-actualization if psychological needs are not met. So it is critical that companies provide that safety so that they can become their best and most profitable versions.

Let’s break down the different psychological needs and how they are evolving in our current environment.

Social Connections

With ever-evolving talk about companies moving to remote or hybrid work, including major companies like Google and Slack announcing work from anywhere policies, the way we connect socially must change. Traditionally, connection was done in office. Informal “water cooler” chats, team potlucks, formally organized events, etc. were all hallmarks of the office life. Friends fans may also remember the episode where Rachel takes up smoking because she was being left out of decisions that were made during cigarette breaks! 

In the last 18 months, many companies have shifted to remote connection, though there is still a lot of trial and error here to find out what works. Virtual water coolers, remote conferences, social Slack or similar channels, and the like can all be helpful in creating a connected atmosphere.

The hybrid future will be particularly challenging to foster social connection across work locations. Organizations must be intentional about how and where they host events, always being aware of who they’re including and excluding. Having all in-person events and your remote force will feel left out, but having all virtual events will not encourage travel to the office. Careful consideration of employee preference and schedules will be needed to successfully foster connection.

What you can do:

  • Survey your employees to determine social connection preferences, and tailor your opportunities to their needs. Not everyone wants to have virtual social hours!
  • Ensure that events in the office are meaningful and enticing. Consider holding bigger events a few times a year, and subsidizing travel to encourage employees to participate.
  • Put the control back in your employees’ hands by creating a social committee that helps steer the direction. Encourage social committees to activate smaller interest groups as well, not just large events. 
  • Stay consistent with social channels and remote tools, and reward employees for participation in them.


Inclusion is getting an increased focus, and rightfully so. The reality is, inclusion is a prerequisite of building a high performing, people-focused organization.  If we can’t solve this challenge, we won’t reach our full potential. 

Many organizations have launched diversion and inclusion committees, built a brief strategy, came up with a way to measure progress (i.e. surveys), and have taken employees through bias training. Now though, managers are struggling with what’s next. Further, a common criticism of D&I programs is that they are all talk with no action. So what do we do about it?

Inclusion is not an easy topic, and it definitely can’t be boiled down to one approach. The most important piece to inclusion is making sure that you have diverse representation across all levels of your organization. Further, the people that lead your inclusion efforts should be the ones who have a stake in it—the underrepresented folks. There are many experts in this space that organizations can ask to help with a truly transformative inclusion policy. 

Also, data shows conclusively that when we train managers to become coaches, inclusivity increases. This is because managers develop the skill of asking questions from a non-judgemental and curious place, and believing in people’s potential. 

What you can do:

  • Consult with experts in D&I to ensure the plan you have is meaningful. We are ready to help on this topic with our world renowned experts in this field.  
  • Acknowledge that taking your employees through an online D&I training is not enough! Building a D&I program is beyond a single check- list training program. It requires a systematic cultural approach. 
  • Follow with action: do what you say you will, and check in regularly to make sure it’s working. 
  • Incorporate coaching competencies as a mandatory and regular attribute of your leaders and managers, including the C-suite. Ensure your employees are receiving regular feedback and coaching, and that your coaches are staying curious.
  • Shadow Coaching: We are noticing an increasing trend on shadow coaching where a coach tags along a leader and join his/her meetings and observes the leader in action. This approach impactful insights on role modeling D&I as a leader. 


Having basic software and training platforms to use is one thing,  actively using it to foster collaboration is another. Collaboration tools, especially virtual ones, need to be rooted in your organization’s culture practices.  

Interestingly, leaders that see each tool as a separate thing that they “have to” implement end up feeling burdened and are less likely to roll them out successfully. On the contrary, leaders that understand these tools to be integrative, complementary, and critical to the furtherment of corporate strategy are much more able to think of the bigger picture and roll out these tools as part of the larger context. 

Additionally, having some people in office and some remote can create a disconnect between the two groups, if the tools they use are not in synergy. These runs the risk of an Us vs. Them mentality. Therefore, it is imperative that collaboration tools are consistent across all working groups. There is also an interesting dynamic between “new” and “seasoned” remote workers, with those who became remote in the last year leaning on the seasoned crew for tips on how to work more efficiently.

The reality is that there’s a changing narrative on how we do work, as this article from McKinsey tells us, and those that accept it are more successful. 

What you can do:

  • Consider both your collaboration tools and their roll out, and put together intentional use plans that incorporate your organization’s values.
  • Help your leaders see the bigger picture of how your tools roll up to your larger strategy, and treat their implementation and use as a unified approach to collaboration.
  • Consider your in-office, hybrid, and remote workers and ensure the tools they are using are consistent across all groups.
  • Demonstrate good collaboration at the leader level. The old adage of leading by example is very relevant to adoption. Train your leaders to exhibit the behaviours you want to see from the rest of your employees.
  • Bring in expert coaches on team coaching and/or culture coaching that will foster better collaboration. 

Learning and Development

It’s likely no surprise that virtual learning platforms like Coursera, Udemy, and LinkedIn Learning are thriving right now. While they do offer great content, they have still not yet mastered an actual transformative learning experience. In response, cohort based, year-long programs are picking up momentum for those learners that are looking for meaningful connection and deeper learning. Peer-to-peer learning is accelerating which is also fostering cross-functional learning and collaboration.  

The increasing body of evidence on coaching and ROI studies show the impact of coaching in organizations. While Fortune 500 companies are revisiting their leadership competencies with the lenses of coaching, they are also building coaching strategies clarifying their approach to external coaches, internal coaches and leader as a coach strategies. 

Bluntly stated, leadership development without coaching is just entertainment. As we mentioned earlier, having coaching as part of the expectations of your managers is critical to reaching self-actualization. As organizations realize this, there is an Increasing trend to include coaching programs into the overall budget, making it a permanent commitment rather than one-off initiatives. 

At the Maslow Centre, we spent 2 years with Doctors of BC to help them build a robust culture of coaching. We coached 40+ leaders (including the C-suite) in both one-on-one and small team formats, delivering content, lectures, and feedback. The result is an integrative coaching strategy that is woven throughout the organization and is a natural part of leadership. 

What you can do:

  • Embrace virtual learning platforms where appropriate but leverage longer, cohort-based content for more intricate learnings.
  • Consider where in-person groups are more valuable, and leverage that time to deliver value-added content. 
  • Embrace coaching as a L&D strategy and move beyond the tactical usage of it. Clarify your coaching strategy and make coaching programs a regular budget item and prioritize their importance.
  • Expand your learning programs to have coaching components focusing on the implementation of learnings. 

Appreciation, Recognition, Celebration

Every organization should have a Culture of Thanking. What’s important, though, is this is not just about thank yous. “Thank you” can be overused and become worthless or be underused and result in your employees not feeling valued. Organic recognition with balance is key. Recognition is most meaningful when it’s genuine.

Many organizations are trying to find their voice and adapt recognition to work in a hybrid or remote environment. Peer-to-peer recognition is also gaining momentum.

We have seen different organizations using the exact same recognition platform. The first organization mandated recognition and controlled how it was delivered. The result? Employees hated the platform and didn’t feel valued because the recognitions felt forced. The other organization allowed a more organic approach, and let the employees drive. These employees had the freedom to recognize when they felt called to. The employees, in contrast to the first company, love their recognition platform and it fueled engagement. This shows that recognition is not just about the tool, but how it’s implemented.

What you can do:

  • Allow recognitions to be given organically. The best way to foster this is to lead by example.
  • Make recognition meaningful. What do your employees care about? Tailor your recognition to your employees’ values.
  • Encourage your leaders to recognize their employees, and encourage employees to recognize each other.

As the landscape continues to evolve, so shall your employees’ needs. The Maslow Centre will be here to keep you updated on the latest trends and how to stay ahead of the corporate need curve.

If you missed our first article on Basic Needs, check it out! And stay tuned for our final article in this series that will help you take your corporation to one of self-actualization.