Employee Experience

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs: Reinventing Employee Experience in times of Covid

With employee experience becoming an important factor of organizational success, numerous HR professionals are falling back upon different theories of motivation. One such throwback has been to understand Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Many of you might have theoretically come across this theory which states that human motivation is a result of striving towards 5 basic human needs. However, using Maslow’s hierarchy of needs as a base to boost employee motivation and garner better experience is a territory worth exploring. 


Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs: An Organizational Lens

If you don an organizational lens and dissect Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, you will be able to create a clear match between the needs of individuals that he states and what employees seek at work. The 5 major needs namely physiological, safety, belongingness, esteem and self- actualization all can be realized through organizational offerings. 


A steady and fair compensation along with job security take care of the first two levels. While these might motivate the employees to show up at work, engagement is still a far way ahead. While they may not contribute directly, without meeting these needs, one cannot climb up the ladder. When employees identify with their work and have a healthy work culture, the need for belongingness is met, and the breeding ground for engagement is set. Recognition, acknowledgement for work and a realization of their value in the organization sets ground for self esteem and accelerates engagement manifold. Finally, alignment between employee’s goals and organizational values along with opportunities for growth and unleashing full potential lay the foundation for self actualization where employees are highly engaged which translates to greater productivity and better performance. 


Reinventing the Wheel Post Covid


While in the conventional day and age this approach of applying Maslow’s hierarchy of needs aligned with employee engagement seamlessly, the spread of Covid-19 and the advent of a new normal has put these claims on shaky grounds. Undoubtedly, challenges to satisfaction of each of these needs is on the cards. Fortunately, organizations are successfully reinventing their approach to satisfy these needs in the most creative manner and keep the engagement quotient high.


  • Physiological Needs


In the pre Covid era, physiological needs from an organizational level were taken for granted. However, with major salary cuts and salary delays, these needs stand in deep danger. While organizations may not find themselves in a position to completely meet these needs to facilitate employee engagement, there are a few steps that can come into play. Organizations should make an extra effort to focus on employee wellbeing and ensure that the basic necessities, like food, rent, etc. are taken care of, even in the face of salary cuts. Organizations need to constantly monitor employee pulse in terms of their physiological needs and offer reassurance accordingly.


  • Security Needs


Job security has been one of the top stressors in the face of Covid-19 and a direct threat to the second rung of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. There is a lot of anxiety about losing one’s job, which is coming in the way of engagement at work. Organizations can cross this bridge by facilitating transparency to the largest extent possible. It is important to keep the communication channels open and constantly educate your employees about the state of affairs, instead of hasty firing.  In fact, it is better to over-communicate than feed any sort of ambiguity and confusion among the employees on their future in the organization. Ambiguity generally leads to employees expecting the worst, which invariably impacts engagement and a feeling of insecurity. 


  • Belongingness Needs


While some organizations are struggling with making ends meet due to the ongoing crisis, others which are more fortunate find challenges in the third step of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Employees feel a sense of belongingness when they are in a physical space, and with their coworkers and colleagues. In the face of remote work, employees are feeling lost and crave a sense of belongingness. To combat this, organizations need to step up their communication game and facilitate virtual interaction along with some team bonding activities. At the same time, virtual coffee and conversation sessions, beyond work, can be effective to drive that sense of belongingness and engagement once again. 


  • Esteem Needs


Organizations that have their communication sorted are reaching the next rung of challenge in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. This revolves around self esteem needs. In a traditional setting, the more organizations recognize and acknowledge employees, the more they feel motivated and engaged at work. However, remote work and the added ambiguity and adjusting to the new ways of work put performance recognition to a back burner. Top and average performing employees are being treated on a similar level. Thus, there is a lack of incentive to perform and engage better when there is no recognition and acknowledgement for the same in front of others. Organizations can deal with this challenge by offering digital incentives and recognition. It might be a good idea to feature some of the top performers in a weekly newsletter or shoot out a company wide mail recognizing them. 


  • Self Actualization Needs


The most forward looking organizations have even esteem needs in control and are leaving no stone unturned to acknowledge the performance of their employees, albeit online. The last bridge to cross then, in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is that of self actualization. However, with everything else taking over and the lack of a conducive work environment, employees find themselves unable to unleash their full potential. To cross this bridge, organizations should ensure that the work being given to employees contributes to their growth and professional development. Virtual learning and development in a personalized avatar can further actualization. At the same time, online mentoring and coaching can go a long way into satisfying the pinnacle need. 


Take One Level at a Time


While this is a comprehensive approach for organizations across different levels, the best option would be to take one step at a time, depending on your current situation. Start with wellbeing and wellness and navigate your way to unleashing of full potential. Finally, leveraging HR tech tools in the market that can help you gauge different levels of needs of your employees and identifying solutions for each can a way to stay ahead of the curve. The bottom line is that in the new normal, reinventing your strategies in tandem with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs can boost engagement to new levels.