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The Matrix of Needs: Organisational Applications

The word “organisation” is used in so many ways that most people use the word in similar ways. According to the website, the word means “a collection of resources that are working together somehow to achieve a common purpose. When we talk about an organization, we are usually referring to a group of people.” (

It is widely understood that when the needs of individual people are met, the goals of the organisation can be more easily achieved. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs was widely used in management theory in this way, with differing levels of success. There is, however, an acceptance of the proposition that when employees feel safe, have positive relationships and a belief in the mission, vision and values of the organisation that organisational effectiveness is improved. (Bowen, 2011).

In the Matrix of Needs model (Bowen, 2021), the starting point for understanding human needs is the concept that the need for safety at physical, psychological and emotional levels is not a separate need, but rather permeates every need. It is a constant need throughout life. For those of us who are in leadership positions, it is our responsibility to ensure that employees are safe. This is more than adherence to workplace safety regulations, though that is important. It is also an understanding that bullying in the workplace has an insidious effect of morale and on the effectiveness of the organisation. In the book Bullying and Harassment in the Workplace, the authors found that absenteeism, turnover, and productivity were all negatively impacted by the lack of safety within the organisation. (Hoel et al, 2020)

Subsistence, the ability to meet the core needs of food, water, shelter and sleep, are critical to human life. As an administrator, I found that when I increased salaries and provided fully funded health insurance to employees in America, profits increased within the organisation. When employees have to work several jobs or depend on overtime to meet their basic needs for a place to live, food to eat and other basic essentials, they cannot give their best to their employer. Gravity Payments, a credit card processing company in Seattle, Oregon, is a case in point. In 2014 the CEO decreased his salary, and increased the salaries of employees to $70,000 per year. Doing so resulted in a tripling of the business, with significant reductions in employee turnover and absenteeism and an increase in productivity directly tied to the ability of staff to fully meet their subsistence needs.

Communication is another core need for people in The Matrix of Needs model. In a 2020 article, the researchers found that the lack of communication between managers and employees is one of, if not the primary, obstacle preventing organisations from achieving their goals. (Serlange et al, 2020) The literature in organisational management generates hundreds of articles and books per year on ways to improve communication. What is often missed or not addressed is the miscommunication and misperception that accompanies the use of emails and texts as the primary method of communication. From an early age, we learn to communicate using our bodies – eye contact, facial expression, the ways in which we move – before we learn how to use words. Understanding the centrality of communication to what it means to be human will have a significant impact on organisational communication.

In organisational settings we are working together as individuals with differing understandings of relational safety. The research data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) tells us that 1 in 6, of 16%, of employees will have a significant history of trauma with 4 or more Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE’s). The lack of secure attaching relationships to parents in the first several months of life is a common factor in ACE’s and will be evident in the social and affiliative relationships within an organisation. As managers we cannot and should not dabble in therapeutic concepts. But we must be aware that when social relationships become sources of conflict, a robust Employee Assistance Plan (EAP) may be an effective way of supporting the needs of staff and the needs of the organisation at the same time.

The need for Achievement is evident in children as young as two years of age, when parents and caregivers hear the child say proudly and defiantly “I do it!!” When relationships are healthy and positive, achievement leads to a sense of autonomy that also recognises the need for teamwork in affiliative relationships. The person who claims credit for success and blames others for failures has not learned the balance between social relationships and achievement, and later in life between autonomy and affiliative relationships. A simple online search shows that successful leaders share the credit for success and accept the responsibility for failure. However, the reality is that in many organizations the reverse occurs.

The Matrix of Needs model stresses that the ultimate human need is not self-actualisation, but interdependent actualisation. The idea of interdependence fully supports the concept of teamwork and the networking required in today’s digitally wired workplace. However, interdependence is easier to say than do, and requires leaders who can do more than teach the concept; they must be able to live out the practice of interdependence day in and day out. Max DePree wrote what is often referred to as the best book ever written on leadership – Leadership is an Art. One of his quotes is “In most vital organizations, there is a common bond of interdependence, mutual interest, interlocking contributions, and simple joy.” He stresses that only when the needs of individuals are met can the needs of the organisation be met. The Matrix of Needs provides a framework to analyse and understand both individual and organisational needs and chart a path for the future of the organisation centred on one individual at a time.


Bowen, B. (2021). The Matrix of Needs: Reframing Maslow’s Hierarchy. Health, 13, 538-563. doi: 10.4236/health.2021.135041.

Bowen B, Privitera MR, & Bowie V. (2011). Reducing Workplace Violence by Creating Healthy Workplace Environments, Journal of Aggression, Conflict, and Peace Research, 3(4) 185-198, October 2011,

Bowen, B (2011). Moving Away From Coercion and Enhancing Patient Dignity and Respect in Workplace Violence in the Mental and General Health Care Setting, Michael R. Privitera, MD (Ed), 2011. Boston, MA: Jones & Bartlett.

Campbell S, Campbell-Phillips S & Phillips, D (2020). Lack of communication between management and employees. SIASAT Journal of Social, Cultural and Political Studies, 4 (3) July 2020, 32-39

Hoel H, Einarsen SV, Zapf D & Cooper CL (2020). Bullying and Harassment in the Workplace: Theory, Research and Practice. New York, NY: CRC Press.


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