What do Employees Want?


I have conducted enough exit-interviews to get a baseline on the situation, and I don’t want to be another writer talking about why employees leave an organization, I would like to look at it from a different prospective.

Let us reverse engineer the situation, and get back to the basics, adding only the aspect of psychology to the mix.

When we are talking about psychology, we have to look at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs:


As it is shown above, a person can only reach his/her potential after securing the basic needs.

Companies sometimes neglect the basics, that is why I want to explore them, and hopefully

  • Physiological:

This comes at the very top when it comes to needs to a person, also known as the biological needs, and if this need is not met, then it is highly likely that the life would seize to exist. These needs include: air, food, drink, shelter, warmth, sex, sleep, etc.

Most companies tend to serve this need by fair compensation for the work the employee does. But why not get creative with this, companies should explore serving this needs more directly, for example offering discounted or free lunch in the company, maybe going a step further by offering a full meal plan that covers this particular need fully, I know some might not agree, but I am a believer of the chaos theory and in particular the butterfly effect, and I believe that every small thing matters in the long run, and might be the game changer.

Another example is sleep, well, I would group it under rest, I noticed most the companies focus on tardiness (which is understandable) but the don’t consider workaholics, in fact, some managers want their team like that, and that is a big problem, because the employee is not getting one of their basic needs, they will eventually burn-out, and will leave the organization, even if the employee is getting all the recognition and reward that any company can offer, the company/manager neglected the basic need of “rest” and focused on a need that falls under this particular need.

  • Safety:

After a person fulfills the basic physiological needs, the concern comes to preservation and continuity, here comes the safety needs, which include: protection from elements, security, order, law, limits, stability, etc.

Before I get into details about this, I would like to remark about the job security need, I believe it is misunderstood in this part of the world, and I will be writing soon on this particular subject.

Getting back to the safety need, the organization can easily expand on it, in fact, large Saudi Arabian companies are taking it under consideration when they offer Housing plans to their employees, which hits the security of property and family, other companies offer pension plans (other than the government mandated “GOSI” plan).

But why not expand on this even more, I used to work for an organization that offered any new parent a new baby car seat, for the safety of the child, that small gesture shows the level of the company’s commitment towards securing safety, not only to the employee, but to the family of the employee.

  • Love/Belonging:

When the future is secured, humans then want to belong, for example: work group, family, affection, relationships, etc. And here is where most SME fall short in the competition with the large organization and the usual response is that it is due to the difference in budgets allocated to such activities. I tend to disagree, taking the butterfly effect into the equation, the smallest things can make the biggest differences

These days, the focus on engagement is at an all time high, where some companies started to hire consultants to help with the engagement, but in reality, this stage doesn’t require this much effort, companies should go to the basics, when does someone belong? And answering this question can take volumes, but a full answer is not really needed, starting with small actions such as a quarterly lunch, a weekly department coffee break are good examples of starting points. Employees should always feel comfortable with their surroundings, most companies think that it is only about furniture and buildings, but even the company’s actions can affect the comfort levels of the employee.

  • Esteem:

Now that the employee is engaged and feels belonging to the company, the employee needs to feel appreciated for his/her efforts. This need covers: self-esteem, achievement, mastery, independence, status, dominance, prestige, managerial responsibility, etc.

And that can be offered by the company in many ways such as recognition for work well done, a nice promotion with a nice title, autonomy …etc.

But this “ego” need isn’t going to matter unless the previous needs are dealt with.

  • Self-Actualization:

It is a great moment when someone realizes his/her potential, when they know that they are making a change, this can only happen when the employee covered all the previous needs.

When someone reaches this stage they are realizing personal potential, self-fulfillment, seeking personal growth and peak experiences.

A human being by nature seeks challenge and craves accomplishments, and everyone has the capability to reach this level, but unfortunately many don’t reach it, and that is due to the focus on reaching the above goals.

This stage allows for the best outcome from the employee, because the employee knows that any/all other needs are met, and the company is helping achieve the previous needs for him/her to realize his potential and achieve it.


Adding to the above, in the 1970s adaptation of the hierarchy of needs model, there are two more points added just before the self-actualization:

  • Cognitive:

This need is basically the need of knowledge and meaning, this means that the employee needs to understand the know-how of his/her job and the why, a large number of managers always oversee this need and this leads to the employee feeling worthless because the don’t know how much the company needs their accurate input.

This is why having a clear and understandable process, policy, job description, …etc. is very important to the productivity of the employee.

  • Aesthetic: 

This need is a “transparent” need, meaning that companies can’t have much impact on it, because it could be a self-image issue with the employee, but that doesn’t mean that the company should just overlook this, I worked in a company that had a weight loss competition, this is a very great way of looking at this need and addressing it. The competition was open to everyone, and the judging was on percentage of weight loss and not how many KGs and this offers equal opportunity to anyone to participate.

Additionally, in the 1990s adaptation adds to the list one more need and it comes after Self-Actualization:

  • Transcendence:

After achieving the personal needs, human nature will lead the person to help others reach to the self-actualization stage.

If the company was lucky enough to have one or more employees at this stage is an exciting sense, and HR could use those people as mentors to newly joined employees, it is an easy win-win situation for all parties involved.

Although Maslow referred to additional aspects of motivation, 'Cognitive', 'Aesthetic', and 'Transcendence', he did not include any of these as additional stages in the Hierarchy of Needs.

Clearly the possibilities are endless, and HR professionals should always think more creatively and outside the box when it comes to employee engagement and commitment.

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