An Examination of Maslow’s Hierarchy When Compared to Business and Public Administration, Research Paper Example


Abraham Maslow was a psychology theorist.  During his years in public service he developed a hierarchy of needs. In the middle 20th century he examined, like so many other theorists, the requirements of workers with regards to their expectations for the workplace.  (Flowers, 2010) observed that as Maslow’s theories were tested, especially in the emerging fields of business, his background led him to become an experimental behaviorist. According to current standards, an experimental behaviorist is someone capable of measuring norms against various hypotheses (Kosner, 2006).

Whether Maslow considered his studies to be anything other than the abstract thought found in psychology studies is difficult to determine (Flowers, 2010). However, other researchers have related Maslow’s studies to the business community (Vich, 2008). Maslow’s original experiments were not done with human beings, but with monkeys (Maslow, 1943). From these experiments Maslow was able to formulate a hierarchy of needs. His original needs were not illustrate in triangular form. Who exactly could take credit for this triangular illustration has been lost to time (Boeree, 2006).

The Industrial Revolution, as least as far as invention, took place during the 19th century. Although the age of invention had passed the ages of automation and globalization were in their infancy (Hoffman, 2008). Instead of constructing products one piece at a time, automation brought the assembly line with it. For the assembly line to survive, factories now employed from hundreds to thousands of workers. The civilized world also began to depend upon the products of different countries. Although the first cameras were made by Eastern Kodak (an American company), the best lenses were imported from Germany (Hoffman).  Maslow’s experiments came at the beginning of this corporate expansion. Therefore, Maslow’s experiments fit naturally into the business community.  It was a set of opportunistic studies for bosses who were working to make their production outstanding when compared to other such industries.

Spanning the first two decades of the 20th century, public administration was born. The concept of setting up a city, state, country, or some other geographical area existed before the Old Testament Bible. But in those early days the idea of running a government was usually based on greed combined with raising an army. The strongest leaders controlled their nations while the weakest governments lay in wait with the knowledge that sooner or later their country would disappear. Public administration as it came to being in the early 20th century found several similarities to operating a business (Denhardt & Denhardt, 2000). The concepts of hiring qualified workers, identifying tasks at which they would work effectively, and providing appropriate training to these workers thus improving their professionalism became paramount to the study of public administration. Aucoin (2008) observed that the management of public service employees closely matched the management of employees employed in private industry.


Some theorists demonstrate Maslow’s Hierarchy in six layers; others illustrate these needs in five layers. Earlier in this document it was observed that Maslow’s Hierarchy was never illustrated by him as a pyramid. That illustration came later and is not attributable to any single theorist. Maslow’s first layer is physiological needs. From a business viewpoint there have been observances that these needs include shelter and food. Perhaps employees, used to earning a living by the seat of their brow are comfortable with this concept. However, in public administration, when employees are involved in operating a city consisting of many different citizens, each of his or her concerns for life, physiological needs may need to be better defined. Human needs include, but are not limited to, oxygen, water, protein, salt, sugar, calcium, and other minerals and vitamins. These needs may be based on age, childbirth, living conditions, and whether money is forthcoming, if not from work, then from welfare.

The next layer of Maslow’s Hierarchy is safety needs. In the business community safety needs include not breathing noxious fumes, wearing protective clothing, having safety devices on cutting tools, and making sure that walking surfaces are not covered with materials that can easily cause slips or falls. Flowers (2010) calls attention to the safety needs of people engaged in public administration.  In public administration safety needs are more community oriented than in the business community. To ensure safety, police and fire departments need to be staffed, trained, and provided with the newest equipment. Sewer workers, sanitation people, and water purification need to be ongoing practices. Swimming pools and other places for citizen enjoyment need to be properly maintained.

The next layer of Maslow’s Hierarchy is belonging needs. In the business sector, belonging needs is usually created in the concrete sense by formal groups and in the abstract sense by informal groups. Both of these groups are important. The formal groups are created by the corporate hierarchy and form the structure of the company’s chain of command. However, although formal groups exist, certain employees assume unofficial roles as mentors and leaders. Because of individual personalities functional employees automatically look to the self-appointed leaders for direction (Menzel & White, 2007). Although Maslow spoke about this layer in the sense of friends and family, in the public administration area there becomes a need for community. Community leaders may start out a block captains, precinct captains, and community activists. With success combined with knowledge they eventually grow into community leaders that are sought out for their advice.

No layer of Maslow’s Hierarchy is distinct to itself. The layer above belonging needs is esteem needs. According to Maslow (1943) esteem needs are actually divided into two layers. The base layer requires the respect of others. People at this level seek recognition, reputation, and appreciation for their efforts. The higher level includes self-respect, confidence, accomplishment, and mastery. In the business community, the lower layer may be at the levels of middle management while the higher layer will probably be corporate executives—people who have proven to their superiors that singularly they are capable of running the enterprise. In public administration Dubois and Fattore (2009) suggest the lower level will include district police and fire commanders. It may also include people in similar positions in other public offices, but probably will not include individuals who have fiscal responsibility. The upper echelon include police and fire chiefs, the mayor and city council and other such as employees as those that control the government budget.

Regardless of whether we are looking at business or public administration, self-actualization means that we have realized all, and possibly more, than our original goals. Self –actualization varies from person to person. Some people who only dreamed of being able to earn a living combined with raising a family, feel self-actualized if, toward the end of their lives they can look back and say they have accomplished everything they intended. For others, regardless of how high they set their sights, they may never feel self-actualized. There is no concrete example of self-actualization; it is determined by each individual’s personal needs.


      Maslow was an experimental behaviorist (1943). As such it is very difficult to do a qualitative study of Maslow’s theories. Instead, it is much easier to do an inferential analytical study of Maslow’s theories. Students of Maslow can weigh his studies against intended norms, also searching for whether his observations will hold up against the null hypothesis: There is no difference. Flowers (2010) observed that while the theorists of the early 20th century applied Maslow’s Hierarchy to the business community, the same hierarchy could be applied to public administration. This document compared and contrasted the similarities and differences between the business community and public administration. It suggested that once the casual observer understood Maslow, one can easily apply Maslow’s theories to either field of study.


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