In our society, we have long assumed that almost everyone can meet his or her most basic needs. In recent times, however, as the number of homeless men, women, and children has grown, this can no longer be assumed. At two organizations, managers have attempted in novel ways to assist people fulfill their most basic needs. Both programs involve hiring homeless persons. In both cases, the idea is to help people get in on the ground floor of Maslow’s hierarchy.
The first well publicized organization to hire the homeless was Street News, a monthly newspaper based in Manhattan. Launched in November 1989 by Hutchinson Person, a former rock musician, as a nonprofit, charitable venture, all of the paper’s resources and office space were donated by Manhattan businesses. Street News, usually a 28 page tabloid, featured a mix of news stories and celebrity interviews.
Homeless vendors received 50 cents from each 75 cent paper they sold and deposited 5 cents per paper in a mandatory apartment savings plan. Within four months, 200 homeless people had saved enough money to move into their own rooms and apartments.
Days Inn of America is another organization that has a work program for what it calls special sector people – the homeless, the elderly and the disabled. The program, which employs these workers as reservation sales clerks, has been growing since 1985. Most of the homeless employees are drawn from shelters for battered women. Because most of these women don’t have job skills or previous experience in an office situation, Days Inn provides classroom instruction and on-the-job training.
An obvious conclusion is that employees first need a wage sufficient to feed, shelter and protect them and their families satisfactorily as well as a safe working environment. Then their security needs must be met – job security, freedom from coercion or arbitrary treatment, and clearly defined regulations. Then managers can offer incentives designed to provide employees with esteem, feelings of belonging or opportunities to grow.
When all other needs have been adequately met, employees will become motivated by the need for self actualization. They will look for meaning and personal growth in their work and will actively seek out new responsibilities. Individual differences are greatest at this level. For some individuals, producing work of high quality is a means for self actualization, while for others, developing creative, useful ideas serves the same need. By being aware of the different self actualization needs of their employees, managers can use a variety of approaches to enable employees to achieve personal as well as organizational goals.
Need theory is a challenge for managers to practice for two reasons. First, any manager works in a complex web of relationships with people whose needs probably differ widely. These differences are all the more pronounced in an era of global business conducted across cultural borders. Study of the differences in motivation and business practices in various cultures was introduced, concluded that hierarchy of needs does not describe a universal human motivational process. Rather, it is the description of a specific value system namely, that of the American middle class. Thus people in cultures that have other value systems may be concerned about social or self esteem needs before security needs become a major focus of their activities.
Second, any one person’s needs can be changed over time. In terms of people progressing up his hierarchy, sometimes circumstances dictate moving down the hierarchy. A recent Wall Street Journal report gives an example of this among survivors of corporate downsizing. These people’s esteem, belonging and even security needs can quickly become unsatisfied, even though they retain their jobs. You can have very meaningful work but still, as you see your co-workers fired, worry am I next to go? That’s a question about your basic security needs.