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Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs for HR: Insights From an Expert

In work as in life, reaching your peak is no small feat. But when you think of the HR profession as a multilevel pyramid of needs, the path becomes clearer. Harvard Business School’s Amy Edmondson loves the idea. In episode 97 of the HR Break Room® podcast, she explains why.

There’s no shortage of obstacles

For many HR professionals, there is an undeniable sense of “too many responsibilities, too little time” hanging over every workweek. According to Edmondson, that’s simply a reality we all have to manage.

But it’s also important to remember that not all challenges stem from the job itself. In fact, ongoing concerns that relate more directly to life outside of work are characteristic of the bottom level on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: basic needs. It’s something that applies to HR and the workforce as a whole.

“When your employees are distracted by some of the basics that need to be in place for their lives outside of the workplace to function appropriately, that distraction means they’re not focused on the tasks that you’ve hired them to do, or they’re not as able,” Edmondson said. “A big portion of their brain isn’t available to do the real work.”

These obstacles can be overcome

One of the most important takeaways from any discussion of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is the fluidity of the model. This applies to HR professionals in a big way, meaning that moving from one level to another is not only possible, but a regular occurrence. Put differently, just because you might feel stuck in your role doesn’t mean that’s a permanent condition.

Man holding a tablet surrounded by black and white line drawings

As you demonstrate your ability to help employees meet their needs, you position yourself as a source of strategic value in the eyes of the C-suite. In much the same way a CIO knows technology or a financial professional knows accounts, you know people. It’s a valuable perspective from which to offer input, even if that means stepping outside your comfort zone and speaking up more, which can feel understandably daunting.

“I understand where this anxiety can come from, and I think … we have to shift that around so that you recognize every day your thoughts and your expertise are among the most crucial expertise for the success of your business,” Edmondson said.

The right technology can help

One of the best ways HR professionals overcome obstacles is to make sure their organizations are equipped with HR technology that increases efficiencies. For example, using a single HR and payroll platform to significantly cut down on the number of logins needed to complete tasks. A Deloitte report revealed how drastic a switch in technology could be: The average company still uses up to 15 systems of record!

Any update in technology should also include the automation of tasks that might otherwise require entry and re-entry of data by HR professionals, a seemingly infinite holding pattern that prevents them from devoting time and mental energy to much-needed strategic initiatives.

And if HR technology is inefficient, outdated or inconveniently spread across multiple platforms (or even multiple providers), an upgrade to a cutting-edge single software becomes an opportunity to climb to the next level.

“Every minute spent wrestling with a technology that doesn’t work effectively to do what it’s supposed to do or to enable what it’s supposed to enable is a minute not spent on value-adding activities,” Edmondson noted.

For more, be sure to catch episode 97 of HR Break Room, “The HR Hierarchy of Needs: Insights and Strategies for Reaching the Top.” If you feel inclined to embark on your own journey up the pyramid, this conversation is a great place to start!