Before Hurricanes Harvey and Irma struck the United States this summer, experts correctly predicted the unprecedented destruction and loss the storms caused. Now, following the back-to-back catastrophes, millions of workers are trying to regain some sense of normalcy. Starbucks, however, is pulling out all the stops to make it clear they have their employees’ backs.

As Coral Garnick of Puget Sound Business Journal reports, Hurricanes Harvey and Irma forced the closure of 400 and 700 Starbucks stores, respectively. Collectively, the disasters affected approximately 15,600 workers and their families. In response, Starbucks is offering catastrophic pay to employees who can’t work because of the storms. The company also is providing Caring Unites Partners (CUP) Fund grants. The CUP Fund program allows employees to contribute to the fund and then apply for financial assistance in the event of an emergency.

Going deeper than PR

Starbucks’ move admittedly has some great PR value. Taking care of its employees sends the message that Starbucks follows solid ethics, which has incredible appeal to millennials in particular. A WorldatWork survey of 800 American workers 18 years and older, for example, found that 94 percent of respondents consider working for an ethical company to be critical or very important. Similarly, an Aflac survey revealed that 92 percent of millennials are more likely to purchase goods and services from companies they see as having ethical practices. So by shelling out some cash, Starbucks has the potential to boost its relationship with both its team and customers, which could translate to higher retention, satisfaction and sales.

But Starbucks’ decision is brilliant, too, because it recognizes a thorough understanding of a basic psychological principle–Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. First proposed in 1943 by Abraham Maslow, the now-expanded theory states that people have at least eight basic needs. In order of importance, these are

  • physiological
  • safety
  • love/belongingness
  • esteem
  • the need to know and understand
  • aesthetic
  • self-actualization
  • transcendence

The important thing to understand about the hierarchy is that you must meet a lower need before moving to the next higher level. If you’re not safe, for example, you have to get out of danger before you can worry too much about your position in a group.

Catastrophes like Hurricanes Harvey and Irma mean that workers from Starbucks–and hundreds of other companies–will experience problems at the very base of the hierarchy. Even something as fundamental as getting clean drinking water becomes problematic. In these kinds of circumstances, employees will have an incredibly difficult time focusing on anything else. They have to fix their basic issues before they’re free to pour themselves into a job. By supplying catastrophic pay and the CUP Fund grants, Starbucks makes it more likely that, as stores become capable of reopening, the workers are mentally geared up, too.

Not all smooth sailing

Here’s why I say makes it more likely. Realistically, Starbucks employees have relationships. Just because they’re able to work and have basic needs secured doesn’t mean others they love can or do. And with recovery predicted to take months, the company’s workers likely still will have plenty on their minds well into the future. Starbucks will have to find ways to address these stresses to really get the most out of their team.

A message of hope and faith at the right moment

Despite the complexity and challenges ahead, Starbucks deserves kudos. The company sees its place in communities and offers comforting reassurance about resiliency. As Kevin Johnson, Starbucks’ President and CEO, wrote in a recent release:

“Once again, we are reminded that Starbucks remains that third place for millions of customers who visit us as part of their daily routine, where communities come together and where human connection can provide a brief respite in times of profound challenge. Even if only for a short while. Hurricanes Harvey and Irma may have inflicted violent and horrific destruction, but I remain confident that just as the American people demonstrated on 9/11, we will rise to the challenge of recovering from these storms and emerge even stronger – as individuals, as teams and as a company.”

We all might be at different Maslow levels following these disasters. Maybe we’re the customer rather than the worker. Maybe we’re the one in charge. But Johnson has it right. We can do this. Together.

The opinions expressed here by columnists are their own, not those of