Maslow’s Hierarchy

Why do we organise?
I’ve been thinking about this question lately.
A more fundamental questions is why do we work?
A lot of people would laugh at this question with the simple response “we work to earn money.”
I was discussing this with a client recently after we had both had a short break. We spoke about how we enjoyed the break immensely but it was becoming a fast receding memory for both of us. My client then said to me

That’s why we work. We work to earn enough money to take a holiday.”

Hmmm. I’m not so sure. I like my work. I’ll go even further. I love my work and I’m passionate about it. I get tired quite often and I enjoy getting home each night and putting my feet up. I enjoy the weekend and it’s hard to start again on Monday morning. There are parts of my work I would rather not do – it would be very nice if the administration just did itself. But the real work, the part where I am working with a client – that’s what I live for. Well I live for other things as well, but the essence of my work is wonderful.
But maybe I’m one out.
Here’s another take:

Work hard and the world respects you. Work hard and you can have anything you want. Work really extra super hard and do nothing else but work and ignore your family and spend 14 hours a day at the office and make 300 grand a year that you never have time to spend, sublimate your soul to the corporate machine and enjoy a profound drinking problem and sporadic impotence and a nice 8BR mini-mansion you never spend any time in, and you and your shiny BMW 740i will get into heaven. [from Mark Morford’s column at SFGate.com.]

That certainly is a common perspective.
But deep down, I am convinced that something else is driving us. Today, I started thinking about it in terms of Maslow’s Hierarchy.
Sure we work to feed, clothe and house ourselves. Most of us in the West have got that covered (although I am not for one moment forgetting that there are many in the West who struggle to meet even these basic requirements.)
As I re-read Maslow, I am warming to the parallel with why we work. Going one step up his scale is Safety. Yes we work to make ourselves safe. Partly this relates to our personal lives – to save enough to keep ourselves fed, clothed and housed throughout our lives. But also at a communal level – we work to provide the infrastructure we need to be safe.
The next level is love and belonging. Again, work enables most of us to have and to provide for a family. We also work to belong to something. To be part of something.
Coming along to the BMW 740i we have self-esteem and status. This is where it really starts to get interesting. Why is status so important to us? Because we are all so uncertain of ourselves? Because deep down, we all have a need to prove ourselves to ourselves? Hmm? I think somehow, I’ll be coming back to this theme. But I don’t want to dwell on it here because Maslow’s next two levels are really fascinating – Self-actualisation and Transcendence.
Put aside for the moment arguments about whether Self-actualisation is an end itself or simply a means to Transcendence – just ask yourself the question “What would it be like to reach transcendence in work?”
Comment it you like. Of just come back to follow the discussion.

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