Satisfying Social Needs

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Whenever I teach Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs, everyone seems to understand the two lowest levels – the physiological need and the safety need. When I would ask the class how these two levels are satisfied, the students normally agree that the company you work for satisfies these levels for you through the salary they pay you and the benefits that are provided.

When I get to level three – the satisfaction of social needs – the discussion gets interesting. I ask the class: Who has the greater responsibility for satisfying a team member’s social needs: the company, the individual, or the project manager?

Companies try to satisfy the social need but often fail as their good intentions go astray. Consider the following examples:

  • A company well known for its photography products told their workers they were allowed to use the company’s facilities for processing their own film, as long as they brought their own paper; the company would provide the chemical and photography equipment. Several of the people formed photography clubs to take advantage of this opportunity and they began satisfying their own social needs. Unfortunately, those employees who were not photography enthusiasts were very unhappy that the company was providing social benefits not everyone could use.
  • Once a year, a company sponsored a golf outing that included an elegant dinner in which the golfers could bring their spouses. Those employees who were not golfers did not attend and saw this as an ordeal rather than a social function.
  • A manufacturing company resided in a community where the majority of the people did not consume alcoholic beverages due to either personal or religious convictions. The company held a Christmas party – alcohol was provided. Unfortunately, the attendance at the party was poor. The company realized that many of the workers did not view the Christmas party as a social event. For two years, the company cancelled the Christmas party and issued all 2000 employees a company check for $6.25 each, which was the company’s contribution to the Christmas party.

The point is that some companies are successful at satisfying social needs but not for all of the employees in the company. Most students believe that the individual is responsible for satisfying his/her social needs, which can come from a religious group and church functions or joining a social club.

In recent years, there seems to be a push toward projects attempting to satisfy the social needs of its team members, especially on long term projects where many members of the team may be assigned fulltime for the duration of the project. A few years ago, I read a paper (which I am sorry I never kept) that showed workers who socialize together away from work are more productive when working together in the workplace. For project managers, this could easily increase the productivity of the team. The obstacle, of course, is finding what method works best for you. Based upon the size of the project team, the answer varies.

My personal suggestion is something I’ve spoken about before: dinner team meetings. Gather your team once a month for dinner, at a time and place outside of the office, and allow each members’ spouse and family to come. See what happens! Even though you’re meeting outside of the office, don’t be too surprised if some brilliant ideas begin to arise.

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