Maslow’s Hierarchy and your Career

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In the last post, I talked about fear and the impact on the workplace.  Today, we’re going to consider fear in psychological terms and think abut how it might be impacting your career. 

You gotta remember I’m a geek psychologist and every once in awhile, I’ll pull out some theory.  Remember back to Psych 101, you probably talked about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.  In this theory, there are five levels of needs – going from fundamental to more esoteric.  The theory states that if you are threatened at one of the lower levels, you will focus all energy on that level and not at higher levels.  Look at the graphic below which came from Wikipedia

File:Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs.svg

This shows the lowest level as being Physiological and the second level being Safety.  People who have been laid off and are in serious financial distress are dealing with those levels.  They are being threatened by hunger and homelessness and unemployement and other basic issues.  All of their energy is focused on reacting to those threats.

From what I have seen, the recession is serious enough that many people who are employed are also focused on basic issues like safety.  If you are working and focused on that level, how is that impacting your work and career?

For the sake of professional development and career advancement, you need to be focused on the higher end of the hierarchy.  Your attention should be on confidence, achievement, problem-solving and adding value.  One common defense mechanism for introverts (applies to many geeks) is to retreat and withdraw when threatened.  In the workplace, this could look like keeping your head down and focused on work.  The hope here is that the introvert/ geek would not be making waves and would stay under the radar and, as such, be less of a layoff target.

The reverse is actually a better strategy.  This is an ideal time to stand up, be noticed and prove how you can provide value in a broader way.  Focus on the achievement end of the hierarchy.  Yes, it is going to feel uncomfotable and feel risky.  Be thoughtful in your approach to minimize risk.  But it is time to take a chance – stand up – be seen – showcase your ability to benefit the company and be a leader.

A down time like this can be an opportunity for those who choose to take it.

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