There’s a lot of talk in the management world these days about boosting “employee engagement”, and for good reason. People are what matter most in an organization – not capital reserves, not resources, not even products and services. Engaged, inspired, motivated employees are what drive the success of an organization… so why, then, is so little actually being done to increase the happiness and well-being of your company’s most vital assets—your people?

When I say that little is being done, I’m not talking about installing ping pong tables and foosball games in your hallways, or offering free Friday lunches. What I mean is, as leaders, how well are we truly understanding and responding to the needs of our employees — the 6 BASIC HUMAN NEEDS that we all share, both at work and at home? These six basic human needs are as follows:

Certainty/Safety: As a rule, we all thrive in environments in which we feel safe, where the fight/flight center in our brain (specifically the amygdala) is not being triggered all the time. Few people do their best work when they’re under attack. Knowing your job is safe, independent of any mistakes you might make, tends to encourage people to reach broader and higher. Having a work environment that feels emotionally safe is important as well.

Uncertainty/Variety & Change: On the flipside of certainty/safety, we all require sufficient variety and change from our work – new challenges that stimulate our hearts and inspire the formation of new neural pathways in our brains. Boredom – when your work has become rote and repetitive – is a sure path to employee dis-engagement at every level of the organization.

Significance: By and large, human beings need to feel special, to be worthy of attention. Who wants to be an invisible cog in an enormous machine? Who doesn’t enjoy receiving a flower from their sweetheart, or formal recognition from their supervisor? Engaged employees feel that their work is important, and that others recognize it as such.

Connection/Love: This one pretty much speaks for itself. The poet John Donne once wrote “No man is an Island entire of itself; everyman is a piece of the continent, a part of the main…” We all desire connection and love, both personally and professionally.We all crave opportunities to work and socialize with others – people with whom we can celebrate successes, express and receive empathy, shoot the breeze and share our burdens.

Growth and Expansion: At our happiest, we humans are goal-oriented creatures, moving towards ever-expanding aims and objectives. Quite simply, we don’t do well in life when we’re idling in neutral. We crave new challenges, new mountains to climb, new skills to master.

Contribution Beyond the Self: Whether you’re a religious person or not, the chances are that you value being part of something larger than your own life and interests – whether it’s a congregation, a charity, a community or an organization. When one’s company is doing great things in the world, we take pride in that endeavor. Work has more meaning. We transcend the self.

Are organizations required to satisfy their employees’ 6 Basic Needs? Yes and no. Yes, in that when they fulfill these half-dozen emotional requirements, people are likely to be more productive. And no, in that the burden is not entirely on management. People must take responsibility for their own lives, their own energetic engagement with the workplace. The most engaged employees possess a deep understanding of what they need from work in order to be happy and productive; rather than waiting for their bosses to notice their dissatisfaction, such people speak up and make sure they’re getting what they need When it comes to engagement, It’s always a two-way street. No one is an island.

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