What Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs can tell us about the new normal at work

Updated: Oct 28

As humans, we crave human connection and at the same time, that is what is threatening us with COVID19. From this, there is weird friction within our brain.

With many people moving out of COVID-19 restrictions in Australia, there are very mixed feelings about coming back into the workplace. Some are fearing being close to other people due to the risk of COVID-19 with cases the highest they have been in some states. Others are fearing going back to the way things were before.

I’d like to discuss how 'Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs' model can explain the motivation of people during COVID-19, and suggest some ways to assist as leaders are easing our teams back into new ways of working.

The theory of “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs” is about human motivation.

We are commonly motivated to fulfil basic needs before moving on to more advanced needs as you move up the pyramid. The model is based on neuroscience research that implies that these five social domains activate the same threat and reward responses in our brain that we rely on for physical survival.

COVID-19 has had a significant psychological impact on the first four levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy, known as basic and psychological needs, whether they are positive, such as spending more time with the family, or negative which would be feeling the lack of freedom due to ongoing lockdowns. The first two levels are where psychological safety in the workplace is a driver, whereas the next two levels are psychologically enriching motivators.

When a workplace is psychologically enriching, individuals feel like they belong and have positive self-worth. They are more productive, innovative, and engaged which leads to better business outcomes and high performance.