Hierarchy of Needs through the COVID crisis

Posted by Sarah on March 27, 2020 · 4 mins read

How are you going?

It’s the first question I’m asking my team; and I’m hearing a variety of answers : comments about their desk setup or office chair, worries about how to stay focussed or move around, concerns for what will happen next and fears for family members either far away or in vulnerable situations.

These responses, grouped together, reminded me of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a theory by Abraham Maslow, which puts forward that people are motivated by five basic categories of needs: physiological, safety, love, esteem, and self-actualization.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

At the first level, Physiological, we need to know that we have the means for physical survival: do we have enough food, enough access to water to last through a lock down. Thought the hoarding of toilet paper was weird? That was a response to trying to get physiological needs met.

At the next level, Safety, we need security of our body, our employment, our family and of health.

Maybe you are concerned for your personal health or of family members right now? I was working at this level a few weeks ago as I argued for our team to shift to working from home, in order to reduce the risk of the virus spreading throughout our workplace and into my family.

Is the home office environment adequate and safe for work? This includes having good posture, the right equipment, good internet. Looking around at large portions of our community being stood down, businesses unable to open, and hearing reports of ever growing numbers of unemployment, we might also fear our own job security.

With our health and safety concerns addressed, we now look to Social Belonging as we make sense of our new environment. Many of us thrive on the human insitu connection we get from work and are struggling to find ways to replace this without feeling crushed by an avalanche of video calls and chats. As someone who has taken three bouts of maternity leave, I deeply appreciate this connection.

As many of us are also choosing (or mandated) to isolate to flatten the curve, we are also missing the connection with the people in our community. Loneliness, depression and anxiety are likely with this isolation and so it is very important to establish new connection methods.

If we can get through all these levels, we start looking at our Self Esteem. I think many people are so far off this level, concerns are not yet being raised. But as people become more comfortable with this new norm, we will start seeing people concerned with how to achieve their work, how to feel as productive as they did before, how they receive recognition especially when they are removed from authority figures.

It is only when you have all the other needs met, that as Leaders we can help our team to feel and be productive.

So what then for self actualisation, at the peak of the pyramid? I can only assume that once we reach this level, we will feel that we can be as productive and as safe and in control of our life as we were before the virus through our lives into chaos, we can be creative and find new ways of working to help us through this crisis.

Why is it important to recognise these different levels? Because where someone sits will dramatically affect how they feel and how you can help. In my next post I will share links and resources to materials that you can use personally and also to help those around you adjust to this new way of working.

I hope you are all safe, that you are working to get your needs met and that you can find some peace and calm in this chaotic time.