There’s no doubt that we’re all living in challenging times and because of this, our list of reasons to lay awake at night has grown extraordinarily: the virus, safety of loved ones, furlough, job stability, groceries… and that’s on top of our standard nocturnal frets. During these challenging times, it’s more important than ever that you do everything in your power to fulfil your employees’ needs. Starting with the very basics and building upwards.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (1943) is a powerful model for understanding the behavioural psychology behind a crisis. It can help us make sure we’re covering all bases, helping people rise from surviving to thriving. 

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Generally speaking, most of us are lucky enough to operate in the higher levels of Maslow’s pyramid (purpose, love, career… existentialism). A crisis can, however, knock us down a layer or two. Here’s what that might look and feel like in a business sense, and how we might adjust to a new normal:

Meeting physiological needs: show your humanity

From a business perspective, this might mean logistical preparation such as contingency planning, but it can also mean making sure your employees have the basics available to them. Keep checking in with people – do they have what they need? And if not, what can you do to help? It might not be your role as employer, but it’s your role as a human being. As Rishi Sunak, UK Chancellor of the Exchequer, said, “Our ability to come through this, won’t just be down to what government or business can do, but by the individual acts of kindness we show one another.”

Safety: make digital feel human

For employees in a crisis, this need can mean safety from information overload or complexity of messages – so make it simple and use clear, transparent language. You no longer have the luxury of face-to-face meetings, so your digital communications need to feel as human as possible. The age of the corporate voice is dead – people need and demand authenticity and meaning. If you can, give them a sense of the business’s strength, stability and control. What’s your contingency plan and do people know about it? Have you faced crises before and how did you overcome them?

Love and belongingness: people need purpose

If you haven’t already, this is your opportunity to move from reactive to proactive, from following to leading. Remind people of your vision and what you stand for. Use the character and values of your business to assert a strong vision and journey ahead.

Rally people around a common purpose or goal – and give them a role to play within it. Research by Modern Survey shows that employees who know and understand their company’s purpose are over 50 times more likely to be fully engaged than those who don’t. And engaging your employees is fundamental to your business survival right now.

Esteem: shaping the new world

This can be about recognising and building the skills of your people, especially your leaders. Do they have access to the information and skills training that they need? Are you giving them the best chance to succeed? For employees, remind them that they’re the ones keeping the business going. For those working remotely, they now have a greater sense of responsibility and accountability. Recognise their ability to step up to this and give them the opportunity to up-skill if they need new capabilities to thrive in a different environment. We’re all shaping the new world together.

Self-actualisation: authentic leadership

Authentic, transparent leadership during a crisis is key. It’s time for leaders to become the very best version of themselves – to move beyond comfort zones, to truly engage with people in a way they might not have done before. Communication is no longer top-down, but two-way, which requires compassion and empathy.

Everything is at stake here, including your reputation (just look at Tim Martin, CEO of Wetherspoons, who refused to pay staff and told them to get jobs at Tesco), so it’s important leaders are empowered and trusted to step into this role.

For employees, it’s time to explore the skills and capabilities that they might not have used before in their roles at work. It’s an opportunity for them to collaborate and innovate in ways they haven’t before – to bring more of themselves to work than ever before. Make sure you create the space for them to do this.

By helping employees fulfil these needs, you’ll help make sure they and your business come out of the other end of this stronger than ever before. Driven by a renewed sense of purpose.