How to Know Which Trainings to Implement First Based on Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

There's a lot of ongoing training you can offer employees to educate and support them in the workplace - but which trainings should you start with, first? Sales? Leadership? Wellness?

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (image sourced from

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (image sourced from

When I sit down with companies to find out more about their training needs, an underlying concern I hear figuring out the best way to motivate employees.

It doesn't seem to matter how much trust they put in their workers whether or not they offer flex time if the employees aren't taking initiative or are hardly doing the bare minimum required of them.

So, one way we can approach the answer is to have a look at Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. If you heard of this vaguely back in college and need a recap, here's an overview:

Maslow created a classification system which reflected the universal needs of society as its base and then proceeding to more acquired emotions.

He used the terms "physiological", "safety", "belonging", "esteem", and "self-actualization" to describe the pattern through which human motivations generally move.

This means that in order for motivation to occur at the next level, each level must be satisfied within the individual themselves [1].

The safe way to put it? Start with training from the bottom of they pyramid, up. Here are trainings as they correspond to each level:

1.Physiological - Workplace Wellness (a.k.a "Self-Management Training")

Physiological needs refer to the basic needs that humans need to survive: food, water, sleep, shelter, clothes, relationships, etc.

Work offices by default are synonymous with stressful environments. You've purposely put together a bunch of people to do work that they probably wouldn't do voluntarily, and they're constantly being measured on performance. Each person is handling their work, coping skills, and personal needs in different ways.

Plus, physical, emotional and mental issues can cloud our energy and judgement - that's a tough concept to swallow when you are relying on employees to make important decisions that impact your bottom line.

This of it this way: feelings of stress = feeling of threat to survival. Since physiological needs refer to survival categories, educating employees on how to reduce stress and care for themselves is a base level necessity.

You can educate employees on how to satisfy their physiological needs through workplace wellness trainings on topics from stress management, work-life management, or even transition for new hires learning to cope with the dynamics of being in a new environment.

I like to refer to "Workplace Wellness" as "Self-Management Training". It's education that gives employees the tools, resources, and techniques to help them show up to work in their best light, and to perform to the best of their capabilities. That, and, the ability to understand how to make adjustments to accommodate their physiological needs in anticipation for foreseeable stressful situations.

Remember: once people are able to meet their physiological needs for survival, they can be motivated to take on other tasks.

2. Safety - Cross Cultural Training, Diversity & Inclusion

Do your employees feel mentally, emotionally and physically comfortable in your work environment? By comfortable, I don't mean the comfort of the cushion on their chair - I mean comfort around the relationships they have with people in the office.

You might have employees who are educated and talented in their field, but you might have trouble with retention if they feel uncomfortable coming to work.

Cross Cultural Training is a great way to engage employees on how different members of their team think and communicate, and why. Having an awareness of how we are different in our beliefs and values can set a good foundation for trusting that all employees are on the same page with work goals even if their methods are different. Plus, it can pave the way to creating a conversation on what the best method of communication can be within the workplace.

Diversity and Inclusion Training is a way to educate employees on how to work with people who come from different backgrounds. It's a great way to highlight and to combat issues around workplace discrimination, sexual harassment, gender bias, sexual orientation, etc. When people feel comfortable coming to work, they'll show up.

3. Belonging - Team Building

Once employees have their basic physiological and environmental needs secure, the next need is to have a sense of belonging.

The purpose of team building is to develop trust amongst employees so that they can work together efficiently and have stronger interpersonal relationships. This is a way for people to assimilate their role within the group and also understand the roles of others.

Many people become susceptible to loneliness, social anxiety, and clinical depression in the absence of this belonging element [2]. It would be a shame to have talented people leave your company because they didn't have opportunities to make meaningful connections with their teammates.

4. Esteem - Leadership Training

Esteem needs are more ego-driven when a person is seeking recognition, status, importance, and respect.

Leadership Training is a great way to build the self-confidence of your employees, and train them to enter management or senior level positions.

Whenever I talk with employees to find out more about what they'd like to shift within the work environment, I hear comments like, "I feel like management doesn't care,"or "I don't feel like management values my work and opinions". Employees want to feel recognized, appreciated, valued, and respected. One thing I like about leadership training is I feel it helps employees take more initiative instead of taking a back seat and expecting praise to flow to them.

5. Self-Actualization - Career Mentorship

The best way to describe "self-actualization" would be seeking and finding happiness. This is when a person feels that they are fulfilling their potential and personal desires.

While self-actualization might mean different things for different people (from being a good parent to becoming an artist, etc.), within the workplace this refers to career fulfillment.

Training seminars or one-to-one mentoring can help your employees gauge their career path, set goals, and fulfill their personal career dreams.

Time for reflection: how is your company educating your employees?

What programs do you already have available? What gaps do you see based on the pyramid that are unfulfilled?

Contact Katheryn for information on Workplace Wellness in Tokyo