Research on conflict analysis tends to frame issues from a human needs perspective. That’s because the purpose is to examine how systems serve or impede the basic needs of the people who live within them.
The same framework applies to business organizations. As leaders, you need to look at the fundamental psychological needs of your employees. When your company satisfies your workers’ needs at work, they’re more likely to be engaged, productive, healthy, and loyal. However, when you fail to meet the needs of your workers, you’ll see them exhibit low morale and high turnover.
Below are the universal psychological needs (1 to 3) that are common to all workers across the globe—according to human needs research. There are also three additional psychological needs (4 to 6) that seem to be fundamental to at least a large portion of the working population in Western culture.
An easy way to understand the universal need for value is to remember that everyone needs to feel like they matter. Think about all the “systems of life” that you belong to—family,
local community, or the workplace. To belong and thrive in these communities, you need to feel heard.
We all want to know that others respect us as human beings, no matter our environment. Workers need to feel like the company cares about them as humans and as employees. They can do this by giving workers some voice or impact over their work-life and by rewarding or recognizing them for jobs well done. So if you’re a business owner or organizational leader, ask yourself, do your workers feel they matter to the company? Are systems and processes set up to ensure employees have a voice and understand how much the company values and respects them?
All employees who value their jobs need to know that they can do their jobs well, and that the company will recognize them for doing so.
If an employee feels incompetent at her job and doesn’t believe she can learn or achieve what the job demands, she will inevitably feel dissatisfied. The more senior one is at their job, the more competent they will feel. Workers must have a sense that they can excel at their jobs, and that progress will lead to greater autonomy.
To serve your workers’ need for competence, you need to put the right person in the proper role and make sure that they’re clear on what their role entails and requires. It’s also crucial that you give them the tools to meet and exceed expectations, so that they can execute with autonomy.
Make sure that your employees’ competence and experience levels correlate with the amount of trust and autonomy that their roles give them. Ensure that there are systems in place to ensure workers receive sufficient support and training to excel in their roles, and that there is an existing feedback process that allows workers to self-report challenges and receive the help they need.
3. Goal achievement
Although the practice of mindfulness and living in the “now” has proven quite a vital practice, human beings are forward-thinking. We often have goals we hope to achieve in our personal and professional lives. If you want your employees to stay with your company, they need to understand how their role enables them to make progress in these goals. Some individuals are quite happy in their current position and would be satisfied staying there for the next 20 years, assuming it will help them pay off their mortgages and take that ultimate family vacation. Others will want to move up professionally and will need a clear, reasonable path to making Vice President someday.
Whatever the ultimate goals are for each person, you can serve the need for goal achievement by giving each worker a clear opportunity to accomplish both short- and long-term goals. Without this clarity, an employee will inevitably be looking around for other opportunities that align with their needs.
In some cultures, people don’t view work as something that is supposed to be stimulating. As long as the job provides steady pay and sufficient attention to basic human needs, some workers are quite satisfied. On the contrary, others expect to be challenged and engaged by the work they perform.
As an organizational leader, you can serve this need by placing the right individuals in the right positions, consistently adding to their competencies, and providing new learning and growth opportunities. If you are in a relatively young industry with a relatively young workforce, assess whether you have systems in place to track how stimulated workers feel, what they’d like to learn, and when they’re ready for the next challenge.
5. Freedom & flexibility
More and more companies now are catering to new expectations by toting remote work flexibility. Gone is the clock-in, clock-out mentality—companies now measure workers’ performance by output and productivity. Allowing employees to work where, when, and how they would like serves a growing need for freedom and flexibility, and ultimately for work-life balance.
As an organizational leader, you serve this need by offering flexible work conditions, as long as workers deliver work on time, meet or exceed expectations, and are available to interact during working hours.
6. Vision alignment
In other words, does the higher purpose of the company serve or support the employee’s deeper purpose? Employees who find meaning in their work lives will ultimately require that they are spending their time helping a company whose mission they believe in.
Start by making your company’s vision or mission explicit, and when it comes to hiring, make sure that you hire individuals who align with that mission. Assess your hiring systems—are they currently set up to ensure that individuals understand how the company’s vision aligns with their own?
Workforce culture can truly make or break a company. That’s why it’s essential to have systems in place that facilitates the needs of your employees. It’s not enough to give your workers a paycheck—if you neglect to develop these systems, your company’s fundamental need for a consistent workforce will inevitably suffer.
Jeremy Pollack is the founder of Pollack Peacebuilding and an anthropologist and conflict-resolution consultant in Silicon Valley.