Pensions and HR Leadership

Wellbeing, workplaces and Maslow

How are work and wellbeing connected? And what do our organisational values and Maslow's hierarchy of needs have to do with creating great places to work? CFG's Dr Clare Mills shares some thoughts.


Recently my friend, aged 82, went back to his former workplace. He’d worked for the same company for over 40 years when he retired. And he was going back to join in with celebrations for his former apprentice, who was retiring, after spending his entire working life at the same firm.

But that lifetime of service with one organisation is pretty unusual! Looking around at CFG I can see people with so much experience of workplaces. So what makes one workplace better, or worse, than another? I think it’s about wellbeing.

“Wellbeing encompasses the environmental factors that affect us, and the experiences we have throughout our lives. These can fall into traditional policy areas of economy, health, education and so on.

But wellbeing also crucially recognises the aspects of our lives that we determine ourselves: through our own capabilities as individuals; how we feel about ourselves; the quality of the relationships that we have with other people; and our sense of purpose.”

Work is such a huge part of our lives that it makes sense for all of us – employers and employees – to think about how we support and protect our wellbeing at work. As part of Mental Health Awareness Week with this year’s theme of loneliness, I have been thinking about wellbeing, work and Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

Wellbeing in the workplace contributes to all five levels of Maslow’s hierarchy. We need our workplaces to meet some of our basic physiological needs: if I’m in our office at CFG or working from home I want to be protected from the weather!

(And if my work took me out in the open air – if I were a mountain guide or repairing phone lines – I’d expect suitable kit to be provided.) We address safety needs in the workplace through legislation and best practice, on health and safety at work, lone working policies and procedures, DSE assessments and so on.

When it comes to the higher levels of Maslow’s hierarchy – love and belonging, esteem and self-actualisation – we’re probably moving into understanding what makes some workplaces stand out above the rest.

We might not love our colleagues but developing that sense of belonging comes through shared values and aspirations, working together on projects and tasks that matter to us collectively. I’ve valued the chance to contribute to the work on understanding CFG’s values:

people’s needs around the three upper tiers of Maslow's hierarchy can also help prevent loneliness.
Respect, recognition and freedom are part of Maslow’s penultimate tier, contributing to esteem.

Being respected, being recognised for our contribution and our talents, and being given freedom – through empowering management, and through a culture that lets us bring our authentic, whole selves into the workplace – all adds up to a positive, valued working environment.

At CFG we recently held a half day session on mental health awareness and many colleagues shared their personal experiences and vulnerabilities. There is always more to do, but I see many colleagues feeling safe and comfortable sharing aspects of their personal lives, in an environment that doesn’t exist in every workplace. And I feel that safety and comfort too.

The pinnacle of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs – self-actualisation – relates to achieving our full potential.

“Self-actualisers accept themselves, others and nature. They are not ashamed or guilty about being human, with its shortcomings, imperfections, frailties, and weaknesses. Nor are they critical of these aspects in other people. They respect and esteem themselves and others.”

How do we support and encourage self-actualisation in the workplace? In so many ways.

In being clear about our values, our behaviours and our goals. In respecting each other, in taking down barriers to move towards greater equity, in celebrating diversity, in proactively making sure everyone feels they belong, are valued and can bring their authentic self to work.

In showing our vulnerabilities and in recognising and understanding others’ vulnerabilities. In so many ways.

Because we want everyone to be able to be their best self, at work and in life.

And in the workplaces that achieve that – or at least make great progress towards it – we’ll have people who feel less lonely, because of the connections they have with their colleagues. Those connections can be strong and positive, regardless of whether we’re working remotely or face-to-face.

And we also will see what makes somewhere not an okay place to work, not even a good place to work, but a really brilliant place to work.


Sources and further reading

What Works Wellbeing

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, Simply Psychology


This post was last reviewed on 11 May 2022 at 09:54
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