Tag Archives: #Maslow#

Taking pride in excellence at Kannesaka, 2 star Michelin restaurant. Where the simple becomes divine.

Pride in excellence at Kanesaka, 2 star Michelin restaurant. Where the simple becomes divine.


I start my class on HR and OB asking my students what success looks like to them. Invariably many will say “happiness”. Now then, what makes you happy in your career.

Many of us think that happiness is when we get a good boss, nice colleagues and a good salary, and get to do what we like at work.

Since Vicktor Frankl’s epic book, “Man’s Search for Meaning”, we recognise that besides money, we all seek for something more.

I decided to turn to the literature on motivational theory to shed some light on this as well as  prepare for my class on designing strategic reward system. Favourite book is “Management and Organisational Behavior” by Laurie Mullins which I used for a course I teach at the University of London distance program. The 3 gurus: Herzberg’s two factor theory, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and Job Characteristics Model:

Maslow's Hierarchy of needs

Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs

Source: Graphics produced on ppt. by Joanne Koo.

According to the framework by Maslow, we have a bucket of needs: (i) extrinsic needs such as food, water, shelter, security, safety. (ii) Need to belong to a social group: family or larger social identity. (iii) Need for self esteem and (iv) self actualisation.

Is our work in the office the only source to fulfill those needs?

Generally yes, but not necessarily so. 

Most of us draw a salary from a career in an organisation. Money helps us fulfill many of the extrinsic needs. Others have multiple streams of income from investments. How much is enough? Research shows that about $65-70,000 annual to provide our needs. Beyond that, more money doesn’t make you happier.

Today as most of our waking time is spent in the organisation, our workplace is also the place we find security and safety. A workplace fraught with politics and insecure future can leave one very dissatisfied. Everyone’s appetite for risk and safety is different. If you’re a risk averse person, don’t choose an organisation that’s known for high staff turnover.

Social needs
We are social creatures, we need to be in a tribe. No man is an island. Isolation leads to depression. Incidentally though some of us think that money can bring us friends. Gallup organisation has found through its research that the biggest determiner of whether a person will stay in an organisation is a close friend at work.

Some organisations such as Google provide a cafeteria with spread of food meeting physical needs as well as social needs, giving people the space and context to meet others in the organisation. [If synergies over work and silos can be broken across departments, all the more better.]  In my previous workplace, colleagues would bring a cake to share to build comaraderie. Food is the best team-bonding device. If you don’t have a friend in your immediate workgroup, look for one in other departments. The office pantry or gym is the best place to start. Some companies have recreational clubs to help you get started.

Not all of us love our boss. If your boss is your mentor, thats fantastic. Otherwise, its not something to sweat about. People leave lousy bosses. But lousy bosses are what Herzberg calls “hygiene factors”. They make you dissatisfied. Conversely, great boss and great colleagues will not motivate you at work. 

Job content
What motivates you is the actual work. Herzberg calls them “motivators” – work that gives task signifance, identity, meaning, learning and recognition.

Herzberg's Hygiene and Motivator Factors

Herzberg’s Hygiene and Motivator Factors

Herzberg 2

Many other factors affect the work you do, besides your interest and passion. Your skill level, availability of resources, timing, opportunity.

The literature is of little help. Because the only way to find work that you like, is to try it on first for size.

Self actualisation and esteem can be achieved through getting advancement at the workplace, having challenging work or being creative. Not all of us are so lucky.

Returning to Maslow’s hierarchy, if you don’t get recognition from work, it can come from social groups at work, or your social community or hobbyists club outside workplace. 

Today’s world of work, many of us realise that even our financial needs can come from our interests in the life/ leisure arena and not just the formal organisation. Technology has opened up the world so that entrepreneurs who recognise needs can tap into that to carve out some form of balance and finding meaningful lives.


Tomita Farm, Furano, Japan

Tomita Farm, Furano, Japan

Myth #5 Networking sounds opportunistic

In “Social- why our brains are wired to connect”, neuroscientist Michael Lieberman proposes that the size of our brains, in particular the size of our prefrontal cortex, the front part of the brain sitting right behind our eyes is larger than other mammals, not to do abstract reasoning as originally thought but to facilitate social cognitive skills – interact and get along well with others.

What’s so beneficial about living in groups? From studying primates, we know that the advantage to larger groups is that predators can be strategically avoided or dealt with more successfully. Its dangerous to be out in the open looking for food by yourself. However, the downside of larger groups is that there is increased competition for food and mating partners within the group. If you’re on your own and you find food its yours. But in a larger group, its likely that one of the others in your group will try to poach it. Lieberman argues that primates with strong social skills can limit this downside by forming alliances and friendship with others in their group

Networking is not opportunistic. Instead, it is a survival skill, not just leading to a division of labor and collection of diverse information, but also a way for self protection. Most of the people I hang out with socially are either current/former colleagues/ classmates or Lang’s former/current colleagues or spouses.  In today’s world, our world of work represents our major source of identify and influence (if not income). We spend most of our waking time with colleagues than with relatives/ loved ones. This is not always healthy, but colleagues come from the same socio-economic background and mindset. Since we spend so much of our waking time with colleagues than our family, why not work with people whose company you enjoy. Indeed, in many of the top MBA schools, including major strategy firms, one of the questions to the interviewer is, “Would you dread being stuck at the airport for 10hrs with this person you’re interviewing?”

Lieberman proposes that perhaps Maslow is wrong on one count. That the primal need of humans is social and it underscores everything we do, including the lower order needs such as physiological. The most basic human need is to be in touch with other humans, and to find an environment which we are comfortable in, and underpins our sense of security.

Many of the Masters students I work with, are curious how career change can happen. Why are some people able to make career switch so successfully? Recently I chanced upon a quote, on the tributes to Mr LKY, by the current CEO of SPH, Mr Alan Chan, on how he switched from being a civil servant to managing a newspaper giant. In 1994,  Mr Lee had invited Mr Lim Kim San, then Executive Chairman of SPH who had then lost his wife to join him on his trip to China. As then principal private secretary to Mr Lee, Mr Chan was on the trip, and spent 17 days with Mr Lim discussing all kinds of issues. Eight years later, in 2002, when Mr Lim needed to find someone to replace the CEO, he remembered the young man with whom he had many happy conversations with.

Networking is about having meaningful conversations with people whose paths we cross. Through such conversations, we understand each other’s aspirations, values and work ethics. Those who are more attentive, get “lucky”.

Myth #6 Networking is for the extrovert. I’m too shy

Some of us have a higher sense of self consciousness and lack self-esteem. Introverts, socially awkward. You may need some practice in non-threatening situations.

Knowing that I’m an introvert doesn’t give me an excuse. It liberates me to use areas of my strengths. I’m better at one-to-one or small group relationships. I get over-stimulated by large groups, and need to balance this with “alone” time. My extrovert students tell me they like introverts. Introverts make better listeners. Giving someone your full attention and clearly listen is a skill. Susan Cain’s “Quiet”.

Remember Mona Lisa. “The ideal smile, according to Leonardo da Vinci is a half smile, because it enhances the quality of gently gazing eyes.”

Do you smile because you’re happy or are you happy because you smile? In “Words can change your brains“, Newberg and Waldman cite researchers who found that when a mother sees a happy infant, dopamine is released in her brain’s reward centres, and she smiles too. But if a mother is being inattentive (italics mine), the smile will quickly fade away.

Myth #7 I’m afraid to be rejected

Not everyone will like you. Think of Mandela, Gandhi, Jesus or even Steve Jobs. Being rejected can happen to everyone. Perhaps there’s no match or appreciation for what you bring to the table. [Sometimes, the person could be deep in thought with their own issues and miss what you’re saying. This happens to me quite often, and my friends would ask if I was angry or something bothering me.]  Move on.

All of us have our own inner baggage, and the people you may be working with, may have their own set of values, stereotypes and bias. Ask if you’re banging your head against the wall. Or you simply need more practice in building social skills. Networking is a skill that needs practice. There are books teaching you how to create small talk. Read them.  Practice in a safe environment.

Myth #8 Don’t talk to strangers

How to be a Power Connector, the 5+50+100 rule” by Judy Robinett, who says to people who tell her they hate talking with strangers, “I was a stranger five seconds ago and you’re talking to me”.

Robinett suggests making it a game. Talk to 3 strangers a day, starting with people who are “trapped” next to them in a grocery line.

Observe your inner speech. When it turns negative, it can bring about a downward spiral of inattentiveness, negative emotions, retaliation and other problems. You may want to generate positive self-talk, think kind thoughts towards the people you are interacting with.

If that still doesnt work, understand what motivates you and what is your networking style. Extroverts for instance, like bigger groups of people. Introverts on the other hand, are not socially isolated as previously believed. Rather, they are motivated by their passion. An introvert can talk non-stop especially in their area of interest. But as it takes less to stimulate an introvert than an extrovert, take time out and rest. Know when you’re spent.

All the best to your networking!