Oh to feel safe again! What we can learn from collectively experiencing the lower levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs.


May 14, 2020

by 3rdspace


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Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, developed by Abraham Maslow in 1943 defines the natural human inclination to fulfil more basic needs before fulfilling more advanced needs. We’ve all, I’m sure, been able to relate to the pyramid of needs at pivotal times in our lives. Bushfires, a house move, divorce, a new job. When life throws us lemons or the preverbal bone we feel the psychological shift within as we oscillate between stages in the hierarchy.

Never has there been a time in this generation when we have endured such changing and uncertain times collectively as a society, country and species. Nearly 80 years on, we quickly begin to recognise the ever evolving relevance and meaning of each level on the hierarchy of needs pyramid. 

Is Maslow's hierarchy of needs more relevant than ever?
Let’s start at the bottom of the pyramid: 

Physiological needs. 

Defining the most basic needs of them all, the need for food, water, shelter, love and breathing are usually inherent and assumed. When we fulfil these physiological needs, we become satisfied with a sense of environmental security and safety. However, when unprecedented changes such as the Covid-19 pandemic kick in, our sense of safety and security is compromised. This leads to irrational decision making and bizarre behaviour such as panic buying, which left supermarkets empty. 

Security and Safety needs

Moving up the pyramid, these needs are more complex and define human inclination to have control over their life. For example, financial security, health and wellness, and the need to feel safe from physical harm in any environment. Whilst these desires come naturally to most, threats to our security seen in 2020 have never caused such disruption. Governments began to micromanage our lives, controlling where we go and how we travel, the risk of catching a life threatening virus beyond the confinement of your home and the implications of this on financial security, came down on our international community like never before, risking a global financial crisis. Many of us found ourselves confined to this level and all of its frustration in lockdown unable to fulfil our social needs. 

Social needs

Humans are social beings, relationships with friends, families, coworkers and beyond, being at the core of our mental health. Healthy relationships make us feel wanted and contribute to our sense of belonging. In today’s ever changing world, and with the majority of us staying home for extended periods, it’s undeniable that our sense of closeness to others and social well being will be impacted. As we face the pandemic, there has been an increase in depression, anxiety and feelings of loneliness. As such, it has never been more important to creatively and virtually enhance our sense of belonging. Video conferencing has come into its own during lockdown as people try to fill their needs for connection and human interaction. Businesses and brands help here by creating involving content with a purpose that helps customers feel part of a community. We are incredibly lucky that the technology accessible in 2020 makes maintaining relationships and creating involving content online so easy! 

Esteem needs

As the more basic needs are fulfilled, humans seek to improve their self esteem and personal wealth. With the speed for innovation and agility to create extra value coming to a halt, the Coronavirus pandemic puts a pause on the focus of outperforming the competition. Linking back to social needs and the quest to feel a sense of belonging, these dramatic changes affect human needs to boost self esteem. Subsequently, feelings of lack of self worth can present themselves.

Self Actualisation needs 

Peaking at the top of the pyramid, self actualisation needs explore all talents and strengths, using them for the benefit of society or a higher purpose. Though Covid-19 has caused so much disruption and prevented the fulfilment of the lower level needs, we can also see this time as an opportunity to self reflect on strengths, weaknesses and opportunities. It’s also been a time to celebrate and appreciate jobs in society we have taken for granted. Our health care workers, emergency services, supermarket employees and delivery drivers. Self actualisation requires a shift in perspective and if nothing else COVID-19 has shifted the world's perspective on what it means to be under threat. It has required people to come together, to support each other, to comprise and work together remotely and physically in ways previously never imagined for the greater good, to keep society safe. 

So what can we learn from Maslow's hierarchy of needs in 2020? 

Firstly, it’s largely still relevant today. But perhaps the real learning for Australian business is that having been stuck at the esteem level of decades that a sharp drop to remind us of how much we need to value our security and safety needs has paved a quicker route to becoming more self-actualised. For brands, now is the perfect time to reflect, take stock of how your business and marketing plan is serving the needs both positively and negatively of your customers, employees and society. Asking where the real economic and societal value lies? 

The leaders and brands that take the time and focus to do this will be the ones that come out of this crisis not only self actualised but with much customer love and appreciation in return. 


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