The Basic Needs of Safety

The Basic Needs of Safety

Understanding behaviors can appear be quite a challenge. In contrast, understanding behaviors is not as difficult as it seems to be. The key to understanding why we do what we do is putting your own behavior under examination. When we do these thought experiments, we come to the antithesis of how our behaviors react to various situations. This reveal our behaviors and how they interact with the basic needs in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

The Basic Needs

According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs our most basic need is physiological. This first tier is the driver to all the other tiers. Without meeting our physiological needs, we cannot look for safety & security, belonging, esteem or ever hope to achieve self-actualization. Meeting this first tier gives the ability to work with people’s behaviors and engaging them.

Connecting Behaviors to Needs

Connecting the employees’ behaviors to their needs is achieved by identifying what part of the organizations benefits align with the employees’ behavior. It is this link that drives behaviors! For instance, management often links the reason we should work safe to is to go home. This however is not why we come to work. Nor does the desire to go home interact with any organizations policy. Just apply a thought experiment to your own behavior and you will quickly see you did not leave the house to return home. Afterall, if the outcome to leaving the house is to return home – why leave the house to begin with?

The reason I leave to go to work is to earn an income. This is a universal truth all people share for seeking employment. Out of all the company policy’s, the one that best fits on why I work (to make money) is the safety policies! This is because safety protects me from harm which allows for me to always earn an income. Always earning an income allows me to provide for my basic physiological needs. It is this universal truth of working to provide for our physiological needs that allow us to engage employees’ behaviors.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs requires that safety needs are directly tied to physiological needs. This interaction occurs through earning an income. It is this concept now allows us to tie the company’s safety policies to the employee’s behaviors. If applied properly will increase the belief and use of the safety policy while creating a positive working environment.

BUT if applied inappropriately it will hurt the company culture.

Inappropriately Applying Behaviors to Policies

I volunteer at the hospital to support severely injured people through their recovery. Those who were hurt at work often share with me how they identified the hazard. They communicated the hazard to their superior and then the superior told them to do the job or pack their bags. When a superior threatens unemployment as a motivation to ignore risk, they are speaking directly to the employees’ physiological needs. The result is the employee will assume the risk to ensure they can provide for their physiological needs. What occurs to drive this negative behavior is their physiological needs trump their safety needs and they assume the risk.

I have a colleague, Allan Head, who is the owner of Safety Ahead Ltd. He has coined this authoritative leveraging of behaviors as “straight to the gate”! He uses this term to show how hard it is for employees’ to be safe. They can either comply with a superior’s unsafe decisions or look for another job. What an impossible place to be in!

Properly Applying Behaviors to Policies

On the other hand, we can work with this same behavior to achieve a much better outcome. Instead of leveraging risk to force compliance we compliment the behavior to work with the policy. It can be as simple as saying “working here means we work safe. It is a non-negotiable term to employment.” This drives home a clear message that safety is a requirement to their job.

Once employees understand that working safe is an essential part of employment it can now be applied to our physiological needs. Reinforce with them that an an injury prevents them from providing for their families. Clearly identify that unsafe behaviors impact why they came to work – to make money. Through proper communicating this we connect our safety needs to our physiological needs.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and Beyond

As a bonus, it also shows the company cares about them, which is the start to meeting their belongingness needs, the next tier on Maslow’s chart These needs are where we find relationships, trust, belief, empowerment, inclusion, and engagement that behaviors desire.

Afterall, we cannot build a healthy and trusting relationship if an employee is being told to assume risk or be let go. In contract, when an employee is shown their wellbeing is more important than a deadline it extends a clear message that they matter to the organization. It isn’t until we can master the congruence of our basic needs that we can maximize their interaction with our psychological needs.


You already are impacting behaviors by leveraging people’s needs. The question is, is this leveraging to the employees benefit or detriment? If the leveraging is to the employees’ detriment it will have a negative consequence to the organizations culture. This will cause the organization to be less productive. On the other hand, if the leveraging is to the employees’ benefit it will result in maximizing their output. This will result in benefiting the company culture in every possible way. Not only will it benefit the company, but it will also benefit the employee to where their loyalty will be unquestionable.


*** For more on the Culture of Care go to my blogs.