Do You Want a Paycheck or Self-actualization?

People will work for money. But if you want your team to actually care, it takes more than cash.

Whenever I write emotional engagement, I always get a handful of negative responses. The general theme from disgruntled managers is, “My employees get a paycheck, that should be enough to make them care.”

Some leaders resent and resist putting effort into “feel good” initiatives. They often claim, “In my day people were happy to just have a job.” That may be true, but the idea that people want more than mere survival, is hardly new. Abraham Maslow first presented his now famous Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in paper, “A Theory of Human Motivation,” published in the Psychological Review in 1943. According to The Economist, “The theory arose out of a sense that classic economics was not giving managers much help because it failed to take into account the complexity of human motivation.”

To illustrate how Maslow’s hierarchy plays out in an organization, let’s look at a well-known highly profitable firm, Apple:

1. Physiological

Apple is known for paying employees above minimum wage, providing health and retirement benefits to part-time employees, and having a generous parental leave policy. Meeting basic needs allows their employees to move higher in the hierarchy to focus on innovation and customer experience.

2. Safety

Apple’s in-store employees are not paid on commission. This creates a sense of security. Not worrying about financial safety enables them to authentically help customers without being distracted by their basic needs for survival.

3. Love/belonging

Apple unites their workforce behind the Apple brand. Saying, “I work at Apple” means I’m in the tribe of cool kids. Apple provides iPhones to all of their employees, as both a symbol of belonging and a gesture of appreciation. Leadership wants their people to connect with each other. They encourage employees to spend non-work time together, and provide opportunities to do so.

4. Esteem

Rallying the Apple tribe around the brand fosters loyalty, and self-esteem. Employees derive esteem not just from the name Apple, but also from what the company actually produces. They put 10,000 songs in your pocket, they connect people around the world, they bring creativity into classrooms, and the list goes on. It’s a source of pride for employees.

5. Self-Actualization

Apple was initially founded on the premise of the “democratization of the desktop.” Steve Jobs’ original contention was the personal computer was a bicycle for the blind, giving people the ability to explore like never before.” Jobs was famous for saying he wanted to put a dent in the Universe. Employees have a purpose larger than themselves; their work is changing lives.

Last year I was in Hong Kong walking with my family through a crowded outdoor walkway connecting several buildings. All of a sudden the crowd parted, and started to buzz. Five young Asian men walking side by side strutted through the crowd. We wondered who were they? A new Asian boy band? The cast of the Chinese Entourage? No, the five young men were wearing Apple Genius shirts.

Meeting the higher level needs of employees takes effort, but failure to do so results in humdrum products and low engagement employees. Yet when you create a team of people who are so proud of their jobs they strut through a mall like rock stars, you create something more than a mere business. You create a Tribe of True Believers who drive revenue and do work that makes them (and you) proud.