Why do People Stockpile Toilet Roll? Leadership Lessons

Why do People Stockpile Toilet Paper/Loo Roll? The Leadership Lessons

Is there a toilet roll shortage at your grocers? Lockdown 2.0 has seen an increase in binge buying, albeit not to the point of massively empty shelves like we had in the Spring. And what does stockpiling toilet paper have to do with leadership? Lots – as it’s an example of human behaviour and motivations that might be present in your organization in a different way.

Let’s start with the theory before we move onto the application and tips.

What is Maslow’s hierarchy of needs?

Firstly, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs was published in 1943 by Abraham Maslow, an American psychologist, in his paper “A theory of Human Motivation” in Psychological Review. In simplified terms, he proposed that human behaviour is based on psychological needs we want fulfilled, often unconscious needs. Historically, it was believed that the needs of one level had to be completely satisfied before ascending to the next. Now we know those levels can be overlapping and more fluid – this is relevant to the loo roll shortage so stay tuned.

Although the hierarchy is often depicted by a pyramid, this never appeared in Maslow’s original work. The goal of his theory was to attain self-actualization hence it appearing as the pinnacle.

Although the top tier appears first in every hierarchy depiction, humans move through these needs from the bottom up. So, for behaviour and hence motivation to rise to the next level, each level needs to be satisfied for the individual. This shows how needs must be met for an individual to be motivated to move to the next level and then behave accordingly. Individuals need to feel a certain degree of internal satiation to move up the levels.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Example – Stockpiling Toilet Paper

You might be seeing why Maslow’s theory might be relevant to the loo roll shortage and why loo roll delivery has increased as a niche delivery service this year. In the face of fear and uncertainty, which a pandemic elicits, people’s needs revert to more basic levels. Will they have a job? Can they provide food to their families especially after seeing empty shelves? How long can they afford their home if they lose their job or their company collapses? These are real questions, fears and situations people have faced and continue to experience this year. Add in the remote working and imposed distancing and isolation from friends and family and no wonder people are at Maslow’s “Basic Needs” level. Many people psychologically are on the lower rungs of the hierarchy in reality.

Even those not a risk of losing their job or home might also feel this due to fear and anxiety for themselves and others they know.

Toilet paper, toilet roll, loo roll or bum wad (whatever you call it) is a means of satisfying some basic needs, providing some comfort and security for yourself and your family. It is also literally soft and comforting in feel and texture, and a relatively inexpensive purchase for a physically large item that has no expiry date. So many unconscious factors contribute to its broad popularity as a purchase. Throw in diminished supply, triggering scarcity fears, and you see why there were empty shelves.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Business Scenario

In most office jobs, the average worker normally has all their basic needs met. They have secure pay, a safe working environment, the ability to eat, drink and use the toilet during work, their families are provided for and they feel part of a ‘work team’ or group. As such, they are often in the esteem and self-actualization levels. Note, I’m not talking zero-hours contracts and negligent operations.

With coronavirus this has all been destabilized; the satisfaction of the basic needs is necessary now – with many people uncertain of their continued pay, uncertain about employer and government assistance, afraid of commuting to the office or being exposed to the virus, poor sleep due to stress and trying to work remotely with insufficient space or tech and little to no in-person colleague interaction.

You might be expecting your people to be motivated by what formerly motivated them. That might not be the case. Here’s what to do about that.

Tips for Business Using Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Here are some ideas you might use for dealing with your team members during this time:

• Recognize people are at the lower level needs. Provide as much true reassurance of their jobs and pay as possible. Provide them with the tools they need to do their jobs. Some companies are sending holiday food baskets to ensure no one must choose between a special festive meal and their rent.

• Listen to peoples’ concerns about their situation. You might not be able to help and at least they don’t feel totally alone having shared it. Tune into feelings. I know most leaders and organizations are reticent about feelings at work (read my article on Emotions at Work for more on this) and those feelings are there whether you acknowledge them or not. Many leaders don’t want to deal with feelings because they “don’t know what to do with them.” The answer is nothing, you don’t have to do anything with the emotions. By acknowledging them you help people process them.

• Provide support beyond just the work needs if possible. When you truly listen, you will hear other concerns an individual might have. Is there a way of supporting that individual with concerns beyond just work? Many of my clients are being very flexible with working from home to allow those with a need to stay home to do so and those with a need to be in the office to do so (within government guidelines).

• Bring people together intentionally. Although belonging might appear to be ‘above’ the basic needs it is a strong benefit of work for many people, especially extroverts. Create occasions remotely to bring people together, remind them of the common vision that unites you all, allow them to bond again. Start or end meetings with a deeper check in/out such as, each person bring one item to show that has sustained you through lockdown.

• Create psychological safety. At the heart of this safety is “seeing” people for the unique individuals that they are, telling them that, and engaging with them in an authentic and transparent manner. Communicate as much as you can about the organization and about them as individuals. Read more in my article about Inclusive Leadership.

• Be aware of your needs and motivations and get support where appropriate. Self-care is important for everyone, including leaders. You can only give what you have. Go out in nature, move, exercise, breath, eat well, celebrate small wins, have connection with friends and loved ones, laugh, hug, help others, meditate or mindfulness, find gratitude and joy where possible. These activities create the happy chemicals for dopamine (motivation/reward), oxytocin (love), serotonin (mood stabilizer) and endorphins (pain killer).

Like it or not, we all work with human beings who have complex needs and motivations that are ever-changing. We are complex ourselves. These difficult times exacerbate that complexity. Check in with your people regularly, really check in to find out where they might be on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and then what you could do to help them feel fulfilled on that need to motivate them to the next level. My book, Soft Skills HARD RESULTS, provides more ways of authentically connecting with others.

What could you do to motivate your team more/differently that would help them feel better and hence perform even better?

Book a COMPLIMENTARY coaching session with me here to learn how to motivate others better.


Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels