Classifying Motivational Needs

Andrew E. Schwartz

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While there exist several useful definitions of motivation, for our purposes we will define it as an individual’s desire to do something based upon a need. When a person is confronted with a need (either perceived or actual), he or she usually is motivated to perform specific actions for some sort of gratification. Once a particular need has been satisfied, the motivation to continue the actions diminishes and remains at “zero level” until the need arises again. In order to fully appreciate this phenomenon, we must further examine motivational theory and analyze the unique characteristics of individual needs.


BASIC OR SURVIVAL ZONE: This zone comprises the basic needs for most individuals, including needs such as air, water, food, and shelter. When evaluating these needs, it is important to think of them in a very fundamental sense and not as influenced by the personal tastes and desires of individuals. For example, a glass of water and a bottle of rare Italian wine taste quite different, yet both will quench a thirst. We tend to take these need-satisfactions for granted until they are taken from us. Under normal circumstances, needs classified within the basic or survival zone are usually well-satisfied for the average person. The perception of these needs is rather short-lived, and such needs are easily satisfied. The desire for these short-lived needs, once satisfied, will diminish only to return when the need resurfaces.

SAFETY OR SECURTIY ZONE: At a higher level are a cluster of related needs connected to our own safety and security. Within this zone, all of us have needs such as being reasonably secure in our daily job. While the majority of needs in this zone are common to all, it is interesting to note that their effect on individuals can vary widely. For example, a 45-year-old supervisor would probably be vitally interested in the organization’s pension/retirement plan, while an 18-year-old new employee might perceive the year-end bonus as far more important. The key variable is how an individual perceives a given situation, not what someone else believes to be true.

RELATIONSHIP OR EGO ZONE: It is widely accepted that needs within this zone are the most complex and are not as easily satisfied as either basic/survival or as safety/security needs. In this broad area, we find the following kinds of relationship needs that fulfill our own ego requirements. Examples of relationship needs include: -Need for a personal sense of importance. -Need for belonging and acceptance from others. -Need for achievement. -Need to be loved and cared for. -Sense of identity.

While all of these needs can vary in intensity among individuals, it is important to bear in mind that we all seek need-fulfillment in these areas. Furthermore, need-satisfaction in the relationship/ego zone is sought not only in the business world but in social situations as well. The extent to which an individual perceives need-fulfillment in this zone directly impacts upon his/her mental well-being and will ultimately have a corresponding impact upon job performance. Recognizing the perception factor can directly aid in the complex process of managing others in the workplace.

Our need level within each zone is heavily influenced by either external factors which directly impact us or by our own perception. We can convert this information for use in supervisory management in the following way. External stimuli are factors over which we have little or no control that impact upon our lives in the workplace. Conversely, one’s own perception of the situation may be influenced by others (e. g. , the supervisor at work), and hence should be thoroughly understood by all those who manage others in the work environment.

Copyright AE Schwartz & Associates All rights reserved. For additional presentation materials and resources: ReadySetPresent and for a Free listing as a Trainer, Consultant, Speaker, Vendor/Organization: TrainingConsortium

CEO, A. E. Schwartz & Associates, Boston, MA. , a comprehensive organization which offers over 40 skills based management training programs. Mr. Schwartz conducts over 150 programs annually for clients in industry, research, technology, government, Fortune 100/500 companies, and nonprofit organizations worldwide. He is often found at conferences as a key note presenter and/or facilitator. His style is fast-paced, participatory, practical, and humorous. He has authored over 65 books and products, and taught/lectured at over a dozen colleges and universities throughout the United States.


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