Maslows Principle revisited for mental health - Hasmate
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Maslows Principle revisited for mental health

Maslows Principle revisited for mental health

I first wrote the following article in March 2011. With mental health now being recognised as a prime workplace and health issue, I thought it would be pertinent to revisit this subject that is ever increasing to make the headlines.

47% of New Zealanders will experience a mental disorder such as depression, anxiety, or an alcohol or drug addiction, at some time in their lives.

The management of employees’ health (physical and mental) in the workplace is not just a moral or ethical responsibility – it is still a responsibility under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 to manage the health, including the mental wellbeing, of your employees while at work.

How is this defined in current law?

In the 2003 amendments to the Health and Safety in Employment Act, the following definitions were expanded to include:


  • Means illness, injury, or both; and
  • Includes physical or mental harm caused by work-related stress.


  • Means a situation where a person’s behaviour may be an actual or potential cause or source of harm to the person or another person; and
  • Without limitation, a situation resulting from physical or mental fatigue, drugs, alcohol, traumatic shock, or another temporary condition that affects a person’s behaviour.

Although the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 is not so specific, the responsibility to manage workplace stress and mental health is still a responsibility of the PCBU. This should be a process of evaluating the workload,,and exposure of employees to excessive workload or situations that will put them at risk, and taking a risk assessment management approach to that exposure.

From personal experience, I can relate to this. Prior to starting my own business, I was employed by a corporate body where the demands and work pressure were high. As a result, I was inflicted by occupational stress disorder resulting in what was termed occupational asthma – even after 25 years, I am still having to take medication every day to manage it.

So, what’s the answer?

I don’t have the expertise, the time, or the paper to detail what the answers are, but I do suggest to the readers that you read and understand a human management theory that was produced in the 1940s, and in my opinion is as relevant today as it was last century.  After all, what has changed in human evolution since 1930? By understanding this, it will give you an idea of not only where you sit, but may be an understanding of where your employees or work colleagues are and why they act the way they do.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

To illustrate how this affects people, I would like to introduce Abraham Maslow, an American psychologist and who was best known for creating his theory of the “hierarchy of needs”. His theory set out to show that there are five predetermined levels and that psychological health is predicated on fulfilling innate human needs in priority, culminating in self-actualization or reaching the top of your personal mountain.


Realising personal potential, self-fulfilment.  Seeking personal growth and peak performance.


Self-esteem, achievement, independence, status, dominance, prestige.


Family, work groups, affection, relationships, etc.


Protection from the elements, security, order, law, stability.


Air, food, drink, shelter, warmth, sex, sleep, etc.

This is also related to where you are in life and can illustrate you having reached your true potential. You are comfortable and contented with your position in life, social acceptance, and business or working life, etc.

Each of us is motivated by needs. Our most basic needs (level 1 or “base camp”) are inborn, having evolved over tens of thousands of years. Maslow’s Hierarchy helps to explain how these needs motivate us all and to allow you to understand that if a fellow employee, work colleague, friends, or family’s performance or attitude starts to go out of kilter, then this may be due to other underlying reasons.

Maslow’s of Hierarchy Needs states that:

  • We must satisfy each need in turn, starting with level (1), which deals with the most obvious needs for survival itself.
  • Only when the lower order needs of physical and emotional well-being are satisfied are, we concerned with the higher order needs of influence and personal development (you don’t climb any higher until your mind set and physical and emotional needs are met).
  • Conversely, if the things that satisfy our lower order needs are swept away, we are no longer concerned about the maintenance of our higher order needs (you revert to your basic survival instincts).

This can be further illustrated if you think of the five basic needs as the steps up your personal mountain and then arriving at your ideal position sitting on the peak of your career, your true potential.

A personal experience

To some, all this may sound like theoretical garbage that has no relevance in the workplace.

To illustrate this, I will share another personal experience to show that what Maslow theorised is in fact very real to all of us and I am sure there may be many readers who can empathise with me on this.

In 1984 I was made redundant from a position where I was earning a good salary and sitting at the top of my personal growth. One day, a good position, the next out on the street with 1,200 others. Being a resourceful person, I went back to my trade as a builder but due to a recession at the time, work was scarce, the situation was tough with a young family to provide for and a mortgage to pay.

Without realizing it and while fighting so many obstacles and not making headway, I started to slide down my Maslow mountain until I had arrived at level two, and what a horrible place it was.

Dr Phil often quotes that, “present behaviour is dictated by past behaviour” and in my case, this was so true.

I always thought I was a very motivated person but due to the situation at level two, my security was under threat. Shadows of the past revisited and at the age of 40 I started to revert to my teenage years with a lack of confidence and started stuttering again. I did not want to socialise, answer the phone, meet others, or do the things I should have been doing, – it was impacting on my family and friendships.

This may sound very familiar to some, but always remember, the only way is up – you do need help and there is plenty of it out there – all you must do is ask!

Due to the intervention of my wonderful wife, my family and good friends, I was snapped out of this temporary state of mental insecurity.  It could have been so easy to slip down to level one of Maslow’s mountain or worse.

Now having recognised what all this related to and why,  do not hesitate to share it with others. We live in a very fast paced and changing world, and it could happen any one of us, regardless of the position we hold in any trade or profession or how far you are up the ladder of success.

For the business owner

If you are in business, never ever think that you are alone. Business can be stressful with financial, personnel, compliance issues, and a host of other worries that subject you to the risk of mental and physical fatigue. A good indicator of this is the 2-3 am wake up sessions. Something that works for me is to get up, make a cup of tea and sit quietly and to write any worries, concerns, thoughts or solutions down. Leave them on the table and when you get back to sleep, the subconscious mind will incubate the issues for you and will work in your favour; often you will have the answer in the morning.

For the manager or employee

By understanding Maslow’s five level processes, you can then understand how or why some employees can change from a good employee to a poor performing worker when they shift from the norm. Start to look behind the scenes. It may be work related, their marriage, financial, health, family, drug or alcohol use that may be a precursor to their high levels of stress and very different behaviour from the norm.

All these factors do have an impact on the individual and no one is immune from it.

Remember – if it’s a work-related issue or caused by overload or work related stress, as an employer you have a legal obligation to identify it, establish the level of the risk, communicate, and manage it for the health and welfare of your employees, yourself, your family and for the benefit of your business.

Please contact us if you wish to discuss this further.