What Motivates Us to Work, What Needs Do We Have?

Valentina Roman

10 minutes read

What motivates us at work

It’s natural that a happy employee will be much more willing to get positively involved in his job. An employee’s efficiency is not only based on his skills or qualifications, but also his willingness to perform certain tasks or get involved in a certain project.

Not just a couple of times, we have all felt unmotivated to begin a new day of work. How do we get back on track? Well, first of all, we must understand how the human mind works.

I remember the midnight hours I spent studying Motivation as part of the college admissions curriculum. When I did in-depth research on Maslow’s Pyramid, I understood how much the dynamics of our needs matter and how understanding them can help explain several aspects of our lives, such as choosing a profession, work integration, or socio-professional evolution

Between motivation, activity, and conduct, a functional cycle is established that is resumed continuously with visible effects. For example, stagnation or regression in the motivational plan has effects such as dissatisfaction, less efficient group integration, a tendency to give up, lack of confidence in one’s abilities. And the reason rarely appears as a by-product of a singular need, but as an accumulation of factors related both to the individual’s psychological factors and to the system to which they belong at a certain moment in life. 

Maslow observed and pointed out in his studies that human beings are not pushed or attracted by physiological forces alone, but rather by stimuli, habits, or instinctive impulses. He argues that we are motivated by certain needs that must be met in a certain order:

  1. The need for survival or physiological aspects such as food, water, health, a place to sleep, appropriate body temperature. When it comes to work, it can translate into a pleasant working space, clean and quiet, close to home, where the employee can concentrate. Also in this category is the need of the employee who has increased productivity during the evening to be allowed to work then. Likewise, if another prefers to start his day as early as possible to have more free time in the afternoon and has the support of the employer to fulfil this need.
  2. The need for security and protection. Workwise, one can consider the legal aspects of a contract, the safety of the road travelled to and from the office, maintaining limits in regards to personal information, but also the need for order amid the documents with which the employee works or the degree of fairness that he feels in the employer’s evaluation.
  3. The social need of belonging to a group, to have family and friends, to be up to date with the news of the group to which one belongs. During working hours or during free time, we need more activities in order to realize that, behind the small pictures in a Zoom meeting, there are people with us, not robots. For example, during one of the most recent evaluations made within the team I work with, most colleagues mentioned that although they enjoy working from home, they would like more activities to do together. 
  4. The need for appreciation and recognition, acceptance, for one’s ideas to be valued and put into practice. These include both recognition from other individuals (resulting in feelings of power or prestige) and self-respect, which creates a sense of confidence, adequacy and competence. Failure to meet these needs results in dejection and, in the long run, generates inferiority complexes. After all, all employees want to be recognized for the value they bring to the organization, and those who are not credited for their efforts might distance themselves. That is why a recognition program is a good step to keep yourself motivated in the case of remote work. An encouraging or congratulatory word during a Zoom meeting may matter more than you think.
  5. The need for self-realization, to achieve certain goals, for knowledge and wisdom, for fulfilment. This comes from the instinctive pleasure of man to make the most of his abilities, to become better and better, to get involved in projects based on his own values.

Failure to meet the first five levels mentioned above creates discomfort. And the next step, of growth, cannot be reached without fulfilling the previous ones. As a small exercise, I leave below some characteristics that those who are about to reach the highest level of motivation (self-realization). Can you see yourself among these?

  • You perceive reality effectively and can tolerate change.
  • You accept yourself as you are, as well as those around you as they are (with flaws and virtues).
  • You’re focused on solving situations.
  • You’re able to look at a situation on a general, macro level, and not just the part that affects you on a personal level.
  • You can look at life objectively.
  • You can appreciate the simple experiences of life. You experience feelings of deep happiness through simple things: admiring a sunrise, smelling a flower, or listening to your favourite music.
  • You’re creative, but not with the purpose of seeming nonconformist.
  • You are concerned about the well-being of humanity.
  • You have people around you with whom you can say that you have created deep interpersonal bonds.
  • You feel the need for intimacy.
  • You have strong moral standards.

As for motivation in the context of work, it is important to remember that it is not measured in overtime hours, but energy, proactivity, and efficiency. If you or one of your employees/colleagues are unmotivated, try to identify where there has been a breach in Maslow’s Pyramid of Needs, described above. Maybe you don’t get acknowledged enough at work or in the family, maybe you don’t feel valued or you don’t have a work environment that provides a sense of security. 

Remember, when an employee feels motivated, he achieves his goals and develops faster, with a desire to pursue higher and higher goals.

Subscribe to our newsletter

By subscribing to the newsletter you agree with the privacy policy.

Written by Valentina Roman


I am a digital project manager with a 360° perspective, passionate about understanding what makes projects truly successful and why. I’ve worn every hat in the communication domain: from PR to marketing, from content writing to e-commerce growth strategies, from managing volunteers to business development, from CSR campaigns to product development and AI technologies.

In my spare time, I am writing for Pluria about my experience in managing diverse teams while directly reporting to high-profile senior managers. Take your moment to read my articles as I hope you will find them useful and inspiring!

Be the first one to comment

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *