By Laura Gordon

We’ve now hit the six-month mark since lockdown began and it appears morale is nosediving again.

We enjoyed brief flickers of positivity as restrictions eased a little and some industries returned to a degree of normality.

But as the old adage goes, the only thing we can be certain of is uncertainty, and this week has been testament to that.

It’s a real rollercoaster for businesses which have to keep evolving, making quick decisions and implementing rapid changes to meet the latest guidelines.

The uncertainty only continues to fuel workers’ worries about job security.

Sadly, a lot of employers don’t have the luxury of being able to promise jobs are safe. But that doesn’t mean they can’t do other things that give employees a sense of security.

Staff aren’t daft – they know when they’re being fed a lot of flannel – so the first thing bosses can do is be honest and direct.

Author and motivational speaker Simon Sinek articulates this point beautifully, making the important point that being optimistic doesn’t mean you have to deny reality.

Right now, that means admitting we’re all struggling rather than throwing out empty clichés about “opportunity” or making false promises to try and pacify a workforce.

Sinek reminds us that optimism is about believing the future is positive and that we’ll get through it – that doesn’t mean we have to sugar-coat what’s happening right now.

He focuses on human behaviour, and the fact we create tribes and work best together when we feel safe and secure and have shared vision and values.

Those are the things that help to create a sense of belonging.

Psychologist Abraham Maslow acknowledges the importance of this with his well-known ‘hierarchy of needs’ theory.

He breaks down our needs into five layers that start with the basics like food, water and sleep, then progress through a range of secondary needs from security and belonging to feeling accomplished and expressing creativity.

If you’re an employer, I recommend you review this hierarchy of needs, because it will teach you a lot about what your people need right now.

At the moment, we are working within the constraints of a raft of regulations. We can’t bounce ideas off one another in person, we can’t shake hands or hug, and we miss the fun and laughter that is so hard to replicate in the virtual environment – so maintaining a culture of belonging isn’t easy.

But if you run a business it’s important to remember that you’re not on your own. Many other business leaders feel the same.

The phrase “it’s lonely at the top” is often true, especially in a crisis, because decision-makers bear the burden of responsibility and can’t always share it.

That’s exactly why feeling safe is important for leaders too, and their people need to take a moment to think of what the weight of responsibility can feel like, especially at times of crisis.

No matter what level we’re at on the corporate ladder, we’re all human, and everyone needs support at some level.

And whilst a good leader supports those around them, an even better leader remembers they need to look after their own mental wellbeing and have some energy left for themselves too.

While I urge you to look at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to learn what others around you need, crucially, consider yourself first and foremost.

Prioritise self-care and as the airlines recommend, put your own oxygen mask on first. Consider whether your own basic needs are being met – then you’ll be in an even better position to help those around you.

Laura Gordon is a CEO coach and group chair with Vistage International, a global leadership development network for CEOs.