Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many companies have been required to adopt mandatory work-from-home procedures. This shift has forced employees to drastically change their way of working and find new ways of interacting with others. These sudden shifts can elicit anxiety over an uncertain future and stress from a lack of normalcy. In this new environment, how can companies best communicate and connect with their employees?

Understanding Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

One of the models that can be exceptionally helpful in guiding the way we communicate and connect with others is Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a motivational theory made up of five hierarchical levels describing the basic human needs. According to Maslow, the needs toward the bottom of the hierarchy (food, water, etc) must be satisfied first before an individual can attend to the needs that are higher up in the hierarchy (friendships, self-actualization, etc.). Understanding the Hierarchy of Needs can help companies guide interactions with employees and determine how to best support them during this difficult time.

Using Maslow’s Hierarchy to Meet Employees’ Needs

The following is a list of ideas that you and your organization can use to help meet the needs of your employees at each level of Maslow’s Hierarchy.

Physiological Needs

At the base level of the hierarchy are physiological needs. These needs include issues of survival – food, water, air, sleep, and shelter. From an employment lens, we could also add stable employment, income, and our workspace to this list.

To better meet employees’ physiological needs:

  • Conduct check-in calls with employees to make sure they are doing okay.
  • Make sure employees are set up to work from home and have the equipment they need to work effectively work from home. Examples of programs that could be offered include:
    • A technology subsidy or Work-at-Home Purchase Program. This type of program encourages employees to purchase technology equipment to replicate their workplace office in their homes.
    • A Working-from-Home Ergonomics virtual class. Offering this type of program will help employees properly set up their new workspace and show them your organization truly cares about meeting their needs.
  • Provide resources to help support employees who are struggling to meet their basic physiological needs. Resources could include:

Safety and Security Needs

Once physiological needs are met, people shift to addressing their safety and security needs. At this level, the desire to take control and create order in our lives becomes the focus. Examples include job and financial security, benefits, retirement savings, the safety of the work environment, health, wellness, and fair workplace practices.

To better meet employees’ safety and security needs:

  • Meet with employees on a regular basis and provide status updates. The longer you wait in between updates, the more uncertainty there is about the future, which raises employees’ fears and anxieties. Consider meeting with employees on a weekly basis.
  • Create a central go-to resource information site for your employees to refer to with all the coronavirus (COVID-19) resources and workplace updates and expectations.
  • Continue to sanitize workspaces and develop processes for making the work environment safe and secure for those employees who are working in essential service jobs.
  • Communicate and share additional information on the benefits and resources that are available to help support their safety and security needs. Examples include information on:
    • Health insurance
    • Short-term disability and life insurance
    • Retirement and 401(k) investment information
    • EAP programs
    • Safety and security resources

Belongingness and Love Needs

As people start to settle into a routine and feel like their physiological and safety needs are being met, the need to feel a sense of belonging will increase. Managers and employers can focus on building connections and providing access to activities and programs that bring employees together.

Belongingness needs involve feeling loved and accepted. These include our social needs and connections with coworkers, peers, and clients. The shift to working from home can make people feel isolated.

To better meet employees’ belongingness and love needs:

  • Schedule some type of group check-in or an icebreaker at the beginning of meetings to help people socialize and connect with each other.
  • Use apps like Crowdpurr, Kahoot, or Gimkit to provide employees with an opportunity to connect and have a little fun with each other. For example, one of Clark Nuber’s department leaders has been using Crowdpurr and hosting a weekly home trivia night. All employees are invited to participate, including their family and friends.
  • Create a social site where employees can share information with each other. For example, Clark Nuber has created a CEO Q&A group and a Welcome to My Work Yammer group. Each space is intended to give employees a place to ask questions, express who they are, and create connection with others.

Esteem Needs

Moving up the hierarchy, we enter into the area of meeting our esteem needs. The esteem needs include two components. The first component involves feeling self-confident and good about oneself. The second component involves feeling valued by others and that our achievements and contributions are being recognized by other people.

To better meet employees’ esteem needs:

  • Create health and wellness challenges that help people feel better about themselves. For example, our firm is holding a Health and Wellness Step Challenge.
  • Offer remote health and wellness focused programs like yoga, mindfulness meditation, and healthy eating.
  • Create a recognition program that encourages employees to publicly acknowledge each other for their successes.

Self-Actualization Needs

Finally, self-actualization is the process of growing and developing as a person in order to achieve individual potential. Self-actualization looks different for each person, but generally it includes achievement issues such as workplace autonomy, challenging work, and acquiring a subject matter expert status on the job. These needs can be fulfilled through challenging projects, opportunities for innovation, creativity, and training.

To better meet employees’ self-actualization needs:

  • Assign challenging projects.
  • Encourage, seek out, and highlight places where innovation is taking place.
  • Provide opportunities for employees to share and move forward with implementing their ideas.

Individualize Your Approach

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted our everyday routines and shifted many people to the bottom of the need’s hierarchy. Therefore, employees may not be able to operate at the level they were before quarantine. Some people may have difficulty focusing, others may be overly emotional, and others may be doing just fine. It is important to lower your expectations on individual output and focus on ensuring that employees are getting their basic needs met.

Each person’s ability to adapt to the new realities of the COVID-19 workplace is unique. As such, you will find that meeting the needs of each individual employee is not a linear, step-by-step approach. To best connect and encourage your employees, identify where each of them is at by using Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and adapt your expectations accordingly. You and your organization can then offer a variety of resources that meet the various needs of individual employees, allowing them to pick and choose the programs that will help them move up the hierarchy.

Angela Oakley is a Talent Advisor Director at Clark Nuber PS. She is a Gallup-Certified StrengthsFinder coach, with over 20 years in organizational development, training, performance management, and coaching expertise. 

© Clark Nuber PS, 2020. All Rights Reserved

This article contains general information only and should not be construed as accounting, business, financial, investment, legal, tax, or other professional advice or services. Before making any decision or taking any action, you should engage a qualified professional advisor.