Thursday, October 7, 2010

What Maslow's Hierarchy of Basic Needs has to do With Coding

By high school, we all had learned about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, which states that if basic human needs are met, people are motivated to achieve more. And if those needs aren’t met, people can’t be expected to aim higher. I’m paraphrasing, of course, but lately I’ve witnessed a trend that seems to be upholding Maslow’s theory. The base of the Maslow hierarchy is the physiologic needs we all require to sustain life with safety following close behind. And when these two base needs are threatened, people don’t have the confidence they need to move into the self-actualization phase.

In case you need a refresher, here is Maslow’s hierarchy starting with the most basic needs:

· Physiological – breathing, food, water, sleep, homeostasis, excretion

· Safety – security of body, employment, resources, morality, family, health, and property

· Love/Belonging – friendship, family, intimacy

· Esteem – self-esteem, confidence, respect of others, respect by others

· Self-actualization – morality, creativity, problem solving, lack of prejudice, acceptance of facts

I think the best demonstration of Maslow’s needs is observing human reaction to environmental chaos – such as Hurricane Katrina. You witness people fighting for food and water and anything else they need in order to survive. It is, in my opinion, why we need the mobilization of external resources – people whose general well-being isn’t in jeopardy – to come to the rescue. Because when your basic needs are threatened, you aren’t really thinking about how to help other people.

Basic Needs and a Coding/HIM Career

By now, you may be wondering what this has to do with a career in coding. Well, although not as drastic as Katrina, the current economic environment has taken its toll on many. People have lost jobs and that has led to losing homes. People are seeking new professions and going back to school as they’ve seen their old jobs either dissolve or be outsourced to another country. And to come into a field, like coding or health information management (HIM), which has a need for workers only to find it hard to get a start, how are those people supposed to achieve the top level of self-actualization?

I’ve read message boards on coding and HIM career websites and talked to countless novices who are trying land their first job – some who are scared for their basic needs. I’ve talked to managers and debated the issue of hiring new grads. And although I’ve been accused of being a hopeless Pollyanna, I really do get it – times are tough and employers don’t always want to take a risk on a new student. From the novice perspective, it’s very difficult to understand how an industry with a need for trained workers isn’t more welcoming. From the employers’ perspective, everything we do in HIM and coding is surrounded by risk – whether related to submitting claims for reimbursement or releasing protected health information. Employers have been hit by the recession, even in health care, so they will cut dollars where they can in order to cut down on layoffs. One of the first things to go is education and training programs. The good news is there will be increased demands for HIM and coders over the next few years. The hard part is getting started.

That said – and here comes the hopeless Pollyanna part – you must be persistent. If this is what you really want to do, you will find a way to get the experience you need for the dream job you covet. I’ve blogged about it before, but it bears repeating: start networking. Who you know is so very important.

Ready to go Viral?

While you’re working hard and networking to get the recognition you deserve, here is something not to do. Don’t spill your feelings in an online forum. I see it all the time. People are frustrated and they want to lash out and vent, but an online forum isn’t the right place. You may be sitting alone in your home typing your feelings, but once you submit it online, it’s there for the world to read.

And the world includes potential employers.

And they read these sites.

And they don’t hire hot heads they think might be HR risks.

Plus, you never know when your post will go “viral.” Seemingly innocent communications can turn controversial quickly. This morning’s news was about a college student who wrote a thesis-style paper with graphs accounting her romantic encounters with other college students. And she named names. She only emailed it to three friends, but it didn’t take long for everyone on campus to see it and now that the story ran on national television, more people will read it. Do you want that kind of exposure?

Don’t get me wrong, though, I’m all for venting. Find someone you trust to spill your guts to or vent your frustrations in a private journal. I once knew someone who was under immense pressure and had to maintain a pleasant demeanor in public at all times. She coped by purchasing some juice glasses with happy faces on them and driving to a remote area with a cliff. She would scream and throw the glasses over the cliff and listen to them smash. I have the benefit of being a second generation HIM professional. Even though my mother is retired, she’s one of the best sounding boards for me in venting my professional frustrations because she understands the field.

Matchmaking for the Professional

I recently read a novel in which the heroine ran an executive recruitment company. She had a romanticized vision of her job. She saw it as a matchmaking business – except instead of matching two soul mates, it’s about matching the person to the right employer. Her colleagues thought she was shallow and nuts. I thought she was brilliant. If you think about it, interviewing is like dating, albeit a lot less personal. And the same traits that make a person a miserable dater make them a miserable interviewee. You want to come across as confident (not desperate), intelligent (but not cocky), and knowledgeable about who you are, what strengths you can bring to the relationship, and where you want to be in the future. At the same time, you don’t want to tell them everything about your history in the first meeting.

So do what you need to do to maintain your basic needs so you can find your employment soul mate – or at least the employment version of Mr./Miss-You’ll-Do-For-Now. That may mean taking a non-health care related job to make money and keep a roof over your head while you search for the job you want, but remember to take care of yourself so you can acquire the confidence you need for self-actualization – and remain positive!