I recently delivered my first TEDx Talk, “The Exclusive Nature of Inclusion,” which saw me talk openly about my childhood experiences of bullying through a variety of perceived “differences” and the emotional challenges I faced around feeling safe, belonging, and having a contribution that mattered.
Given that inclusion is so connected to mental health and well-being, I find myself touching now on some of the key messages from my talk. It is so important that we, as recruiters, work with our clients to cultivate inclusive cultures in organizations.
In the 1940s, Abraham Maslow developed his concept of the “hierarchy of needs.” The theory is that human beings have a number of innate needs, and we cannot move up from one level of the hierarchy to the next until we have completely fulfilled the current level.
For example, the baseline level in Maslow’s hierarchy is physiological need. Air, food, and water all fall into this category. Without access to these, nothing else in life matters to us.
Assuming we have access to air, food, and water, we then move up to the safety needs. As the name suggests, this level is all about the need we have to feel safe. Whether that means a roof over our heads, security in our jobs, or comfort in our differences, this feeling of safety is a fundamental human need for us all. Without it, we cannot elevate to the third level: social need.
Often referred to as the “love and belonging level,” social need is arguably one of the most important levels of Maslow’s hierarchy. Humans simply aren’t designed to be loners. We need others around us in order to grow. Other people help us feel like part of something bigger than ourselves — a partnership, a family, a team — and that is a hugely powerful experience. Our social needs may be fulfilled through the intimacy of a partner or the camaraderie of a solid team at work. A lack of social belonging in our corporate lives is a major factor behind one of the most common reasons why people leave their jobs: not feeling valued.
Once the need to belong is fulfilled, we move to the need for esteem. I call this the “ego level,” but I mean that in a positive sense. We all need to feel as though we have a role to play in our social group — a role that makes us feel good, a role in which our contributions to the world matter. Being given additional responsibility at work or being recognized for a personal achievement are just two of the ways our need for esteem can be fulfilled.
The pinnacle of Maslow’s hierarchy is self-actualization. This is the state to which we all aspire. It doesn’t necessarily correlate with financial wealth and personal success, although it can. Feeling self-actualized means having a true, deep sense of fulfillment in life. It is a feeling that can take us places — literally and metaphorically — we never dreamed possible.
It is worth remembering that the hierarchy is fluid, and work issues can influence personal motivation and vice versa. The key, however, is that understanding our own needs and the needs of those around us can help us take better care of our own mental health and the mental health of others.
Maslow’s hierarchy is a big part of my Tedx Talk because, for a long time, I was unfulfilled in terms of my safety, social, and esteem needs. That held me back in life, and it left me feeling hopeless and isolated. Maslow understood that all of us, regardless of who we are, need the same basic things. When he completed his research, he never included any caveats suggesting the needs of the LGBTQ community, people of color, people with disabilities, or any other group were different from the needs of human beings in general (not to my knowledge, at least).
As we recruiters support organizations in their recruitment efforts, we must be sure to check in with ourselves and ensure we have access to the people and resources we need to fulfill our basic human needs. We must also take time to check in with those around us to ensure they also have what they need. Educate your clients about diversity and inclusion and its connection to mental health and well-being. Work to make sure the candidates you place are entering office environments where their needs will be met.
A person should never have to feel hopeless and isolated — especially not at work. Plus, a healthy, motivated workforce is a productive one. Surely, that’s the world we all want to be a part of, isn’t it?