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COVID tested you with Maslow's Hierarchy

Sometimes we miss the obvious as we chase around in an attempt to rationalize what others chatter about. After Covid all media forms were talking about the great resignation the inability to attract and retain labour and of course the never ending dialogue regarding a void of skill sets.

I think if we review Maslow's hierarchy of needs we can find our answer and it seems that as a society we failed to walk the talk .... so let us begin with a review ...

It started in 1943 with a paper titled "A Theory of Human Motivation," American psychologist Abraham Maslow theorized that human decision-making is undergirded by a hierarchy of psychological needs. In his initial paper and a subsequent 1954 book titled Motivation and Personality, Maslow proposed that five core needs form the basis for human behavioral motivation.

What Is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs?

Maslow's hierarchy of needs is a theory of motivation which states that five categories of human needs dictate an individual’s behavior. Those needs are physiological needs, safety needs, love and belonging needs, esteem needs, and self-actualization needs.

What Are the 5 Levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs?

Maslow's theory presents his hierarchy of needs in a pyramid shape, with basic needs at the bottom of the pyramid and more high-level, intangible needs at the top. A person can only move on to addressing the higher-level needs when their basic needs are adequately fulfilled.

1. Physiological needs: The first of the id-driven lower needs on Maslow's hierarchy are physiological needs. These most basic human survival needs include food and water, sufficient rest, clothing and shelter, overall health, and reproduction. Maslow states that these basic physiological needs must be addressed before humans move on to the next level of fulfillment.

2. Safety needs: Next among the lower-level needs is safety. Safety needs include protection from violence and theft, emotional stability and well-being, health security, and financial security.

3. Love and belonging needs: The social needs on the third level of Maslow’s hierarchy relate to human interaction and are the last of the so-called lower needs. Among these needs are friendships and family bonds—both with biological family (parents, siblings, children) and chosen family (spouses and partners). Physical and emotional intimacy ranging from sexual relationships to intimate emotional bonds are important to achieving a feeling of elevated kinship. Additionally, membership in social groups contributes to meeting this need, from belonging to a team of coworkers to forging an identity in a union, club, or group of hobbyists.

4. Esteem needs: The higher needs, beginning with esteem, are ego-driven needs. The primary elements of esteem are self-respect (the belief that you are valuable and deserving of dignity) and self-esteem (confidence in your potential for personal growth and accomplishments). Maslow specifically notes that self-esteem can be broken into two types: esteem which is based on respect and acknowledgment from others, and esteem which is based on your own self-assessment. Self-confidence and independence stem from this latter type of self-esteem.

5. Self-actualization needs: Self-actualization describes the fulfillment of your full potential as a person. Sometimes called self-fulfillment needs, self-actualization needs occupy the highest spot on Maslow's pyramid. Self-actualization needs include education, skill development—the refining of talents in areas such as music, athletics, design, cooking, and gardening—caring for others, and broader goals like learning a new language, traveling to new places, and winning awards.

Did you see it? Hope so, I made it larger and even made the text Red. This is exactly why many businesses failed and are now flailing.

Prior to Covid, Companies had jumped on the band wagon avoiding to name employees as employees but rather using terms like Associates, Team Members, Family, you get it. We had a lot of Team Building exercises, retreats, social events ... all which were meant to create that aura of "Belonging" and it worked ... until !!! ... The Covid Impact.

Of course nobody could predict what would be the extent or length of the consequences. However, many companies reacted quickly in a knee jerk reaction by laying off all or the majority of their employees. And promptly ignored them, maybe not on a personal communication style but left them to fend for themselves to survive.

A quick pause to share 2 stories with different outcomes ...

Case 1 a small industrial company ...

This company had a small but very committed workforce that had been with the company for several years and as a consequence much of their value was created through Tribal knowledge. At the mere mention of Covid the action was swift and unwavering all employees were laid off except for a couple of critical characters. As luck would have it this company quickly came into demand to assist other companies in providing protection for human safety ... the business needed to pivot and they needed all of the laid off employees back and then some.

They came back (had to put food on their tables), but within just a few weeks (maybe a couple of months max) all of the original employees had resigned for a plethora of reasons. But I conclude they left because that essential 3rd need identified by Maslow had been broken. The employees no longer had that emotional attachment to the business of belonging.

Case 2 a small Restaurant

Covid came, Customers evaporated but business still had bills to pay. The owner herded the employees for a brain storm session knowing that they were all in this situation together, but some with greater risk than others.

They pivoted the business by offering Take-Out and then expanded the offerings to offer frozen Meat Pies which became a significant success. They also realized that some of the ingredients they used in their kitchen were desired by former patrons so they offered them for sale.

Before they realized they were operating local neighbourhood Deli/Grocery business. They stocked and sold items from fellow neighbourhood businesses, they helped each other, they promoted each other.

Not only did this business survive, but post pandemic it has thrived and none of the employees departed. They actually seem more committed to enhancing a customer experience than ever before so grateful for every customer who enters their establishment. Let me emphasize "THEIR" every employee acts like an owner.


It is easy to "Talk the Talk" and much harder to "Walk the Talk" and if you as a leader are not prepared then be prepared to face the consequences. Our people need a sense of belonging when they join an organization. It is also a responsibility of the organization to reciprocate.

There is no need to conduct endless hours of research, Maslow has already done it for you. It is now time to execute, in particular how are you going to articulate and show your team a sense of belonging? Trust me, they will be doubting you even if you show and prove it to them time and time and time again.

Toyota did it after the second world war after their facilities is disseminated. But their commitment to their employees of guaranteed life time employment remained intact. Look at them now.


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