The Millennials and Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Millennials take a lot of grief for being unmotivated and full of themselves. They also catch hell for returning back home after college versus taking the more traditional route of getting a job, getting married, buying a house, and having children.

There’s been a lot of back and forth on why this is that basically falls into two distinct camps: economic reasons and character reasons.

A Theory of Human Motivation

By Abraham H. Maslow

There are some that believe the economic depression that started in 2008, with the slow recovery that followed, coupled with the uncertainty of global economy has prevented many Millennials from getting off to a good start.

They doubt that Millennials will ever have the economic mobility to afford the traditional American Dream given skyrocketing housing prices, the changing nature of relationships away from monogamy (we’re moving towards a more single lifestyle) and the increasing expense of having children.

Others however believe that something is fundamentally wrong with this generation’s work ethic and that those opportunities still exist, the American Dream is very much alive, it’s just not pursued by Millennials because of their inherent character flaws… like a poor work ethic and sense of entitlement.

I wonder if maybe there’s a third option between economic explanations and character assassinations?

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What I think we’re experiencing here is an issue that can only be explained by Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs…

We’ve had a generation in the United States that was raised in relative peace and prosperity. A period of time between the end of the Cold War and before the Global War on Islamic Terrorism. Schools and parents have become increasingly more effective at loving, caring, and supporting young people. It’s quite possible that we have over 50 million kids between the ages of 12–24 years old who’ve lived relatively safe, stable, happy lives. A generation that has had the first three levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy taken care of.

Thats remarkable. Shouldn’t we be celebrating this fact?

So, if their basic needs are met why in the world would they come work for your organization?

If a Millennial comes to work for you, it’s likely it will have nothing to do with meeting their basic needs, nor their security, nor their need for family, friendship or sexual intimacy. Someone who’s been raised with the bottom three rungs of Maslow’s having been met are looking for Esteem and Self-Actualization.

That spells trouble for a lot of organizations with poor middle management and even poorer infrastructure and systems designed to grow and retain employees.

The number one thing that young professionals are looking for is professional development and growth. They don’t want to feel that spending years with your organization, even while getting a decent sized paycheck, will hinder their career later down the road.

Grow your people and they will stay.

I’d look on the positive, maybe it’s not a such bad thing that Millennials’ are kinda selfish and looking to meet their Esteem and Self-Actualization needs; maybe it’s an opportunity to redesign organizations to be more supportive of growth and development in exchange for longer stints of commitment and higher levels of performance from Millennials in their current roles.

Toward a Psychology of Being

By Abraham H. Maslow

A paycheck alone doesn’t cut it anymore.

Author: Matt Morava

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