We just want things to get back to normal.

Restrictions are easing and people are starting to come back to work. But are your expectations of a return to a pre-COVID working routine not quite matching the reality?

Understanding motivation is central to understanding human behaviour. In 1943, Abraham Maslow proposed this hierarchy of needs:

We can use this to understand some factors that might be affecting our teams in the return to work.

Remember: people will focus on meeting their needs at the base of the pyramid before they do anything else.

Even if you have been fortunate enough not to catch COVID-19, your need for safety and for psychological security will have been strongly affected by media coverage as well as seeing those around you getting sick or suffering. You might have noticed that it was difficult to focus on work when everyone’s priorities shifted at once.

 Now, as the vaccination programme rolls out and we are told that it is safe to start getting back to normal, we should expect our feelings of basic health and security to be slowly but surely restored.

 So, everything will get back to how it was, right?

 But it’s not quite so simple.

 A recent study has suggested that living through COVID-19 might have subtly adjusted our motivations, affecting the way we behave.

 Researchers have suggested that one side effect of social distancing may be an increased motivation for getting and keeping money. They found that reduced social contact caused by prolonged social distancing led to “reduced charitable donations, an increase in self-interested behaviours, personal life goals, [and] money-related crimes”.

 So why isn’t the team back to normal yet?

 Your team might contain the same individuals it did before the pandemic. Everyone might want things to go back to the way they were.

 But it still might not be happening.

 It could be that a shift in priorities has occurred, due to a shift in individual motivations.

 If you’re a team leader, try to use this difficult transition time to focus on team building and getting to know each other again, even if your team has been working together for a long time. 

 We can get back to normal, but it won’t happen on its own.


Lee, Chun-Chia, Chen, Yen-Jung, & Chiou, Wen-Bin, 2021, An unintended consequence of social distance regulations: COVID-19 social distancing promotes the desire for money, in British Journal of Psychology, DOI: 10.1111/bjop.12497

Maslow, A. H., 1943, A Theory of Human Motivation, originally published in Psychological Review, 50(4)

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