The Hierarchy of Needs for HR During a Crisis


The COVID-19 pandemic has shaken up the world of work with massive disruptions to the global workforce. HR leaders are being forced to the forefront of the crisis and are required to lead their employees through an unpredictable environment. 

Today, businesses across the globe are in various stages on the road to recovery. Still, they’re all having to re-prioritize to maintain leadership and help their organizations define what’s next. 

As we navigate this new environment, it’s important to take a step back and look at your evolving needs, new business demands, and shifting priorities at a higher level. To help with this, we’ve created a Hierarchy of Needs for HR During a Crisis. 


What is this Hierarchy of Needs for HR?

The concept for this Hierarchy of Needs actually came about from a conversation I had with RecruitingDaily’s president, William Tincup. In discussing the changing role of HR in this pandemic, we realized it’s important to recognize that during a crisis, business and HR priorities are vastly different than in our day-to-day.

We’re not fully prepared and equipped to handle a crisis like this because we don’t have regular practice with it. 

From there, the Hierarchy of Needs for HR During a Crisis was born. It’s a big picture look at where HR should be focusing during any type of crisis – not just a pandemic. The hierarchy looks at crisis priorities through two key lenses for HR: employee needs and business needs.

For each of these lenses, there are four top layers of ‘needs’ to fulfill: 


1. Employee Safety

The first and foremost need for HR during a crisis is ensuring employee safety. Employees are bound to have a rollercoaster of emotions during a crisis (nervousness, fear, confusion, etc.), and it’s up to HR to make sure they feel safe, confident, and comfortable.


From an employee needs perspective, ask yourself:

  • Are our people safe? 
  • Do our people feel safe? 
  • Do we have the right health and well-being programs in place? 


From a business-needs perspective, HR should ensure the organization has all of the data, information, and systems in place to deliver proper workforce safety.

Ask yourself:

  • Do we have the right data, information, and policies to keep employees safe at work? 
  • Do we have systems in place to ensure both physical and psychological safety?


2. Workforce Productivity

Once HR can build a foundation of safety amidst a crisis, the next layer of needs to fulfill is workforce productivity. Unfortunately, when disasters hit, we don’t have the luxury of time to hit pause for too long to figure everything out. Employees will want and need information, updates, and strategies – and they’ll need them quickly. For this reason, it’s critical for HR to ensure both their workforce and their business have what they need – from an information and technology/tools standpoint – to keep things going. 


From an employee needs perspective, HR teams should ask: 

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  • What do our employees need from us? 
  • Do they have fast access to necessary information and resources that they need to be successful? 
  • Do they feel comfortable and confident?


From a business needs perspective, HR teams should ask:

  • What is our business trying to accomplish? 
  • Do we have the right people to achieve these goals?
  • Are we able to reskill and reallocate talent to meet new business needs? 


3. Connectivity & Alignment

The next level of needs for HR in a crisis is connectivity and alignment. During a crisis we can expect disruption of teams, roles, and priorities. And, especially when workers are forced to be remote, it’s incredibly important to deliver clear guidance and maintain a sense of connectivity for your workforce. When disruption hits, employees may feel displaced from their colleagues and managers and giving departments new goals to meet emerging business needs. It’s up to HR to ensure a sense of stability, connectivity, and alignment for both individual employees and larger departments within the organization. 


To fulfill this need from an employee perspective, be able to answer these questions: 

  • Are employees connected to their teams and workplace culture? 
  • Do they have clear goals? 
  • Are they getting the continuous feedback they need to succeed?


To fulfill this need from a business perspective, be able to answer these questions: 

  • Is every department and employee aligned with our new goals? 
  • Are our people clear on new priorities?


4. Growth

Lastly, the best path through a crisis for any organization is to focus on growth. Despite the impact of the crisis on your organization, HR teams should push their teams to focus on what’s next. Rather than dwelling on what happened. Use this time to identify growth opportunities for the organization and your workers, and ensure both have the right tools and strategies in place to achieve them. 


From an employee needs perspective, HR should ask: 

  • Are employees motivated to do their best? 
  • Do they have access to learning and career opportunities?


From a business needs perspective, HR should ask: 

  • Do we have the right people to support our growth areas? 
  • Are there development opportunities available?


For all of these needs, HR teams can leverage a handful of tools and technology to help deliver on each new priority that might arise. Our team, for example, has pulled together the Employee Care Package for the New Workplace, which is a bundle of HCM tools that will help HR teams safely lead employees as they re-enter the workplace. 

While we’re moving forward through the phases of recovery for the COVID-19 pandemic, the unfortunate reality is this won’t be the last crisis we encounter. But with this new hierarchy of needs and the lessons we’ve learned over the past few months, we can all prepare now for future disruption. 


Hierarchy of Needs for HR


Gretchen Alarcon is group vice president for Oracle’s human capital management strategy, responsible for the development and go-to-market initiatives that help businesses around the world modernize their HR practices through the adoption of Oracle’s HCM cloud apps. Additionally, Alarcon acts as a thought leader, highlighting trends and strategic initiatives in businesses’ transition to the cloud. With more than 20 years’ experience in product strategy, Alarcon uses her knowledge of the industry to showcase the importance of modernization through the integration of cloud apps in core HR, talent acquisition, and HR data analytics. Together with her team, she forecasts the future of work movements and delivers initiatives to businesses to protect their bottom line. Prior to Oracle, Alarcon worked at Icarian, National Semiconductor, Ford, and Silicon Graphics, where she drove the management of workforce suites and aided in the redesign of worldwide human resource functions. Alarcon holds an MBA from the University of Michigan and a BA in American Studies from Stanford University.