A few weeks back I was dropping my girls off to school in the morning and I heard on the radio that a recent Gallup survey revealed that two-thirds of employees are disengaged. It went on to say that “72% of New Zealanders are actively disengaged in the workforce, with 59% of employees behaving poorly with family and friends after a stressful day’s work.” These statistics are quite unbelievable and very scary! So what is it that is causing this lack of engagement and the general unhappiness of our New Zealand workforce? What is it that can’t be solved by the organisation providing Zumba lessons or a Tuesday morning bowl of fruit? Could it be that organisations are feeling the pinch and are being forced to cut back on their staff training? This may be true but I don’t think that this is the sole cause because training is only a small part of why people join and end up staying at an organisation. I believe that it comes down to the simple fact that organisations are not meeting their people’s basic, fundamental human needs. Let’s change our focus on ‘what the organisation can do for staff’, because although that’s a motivator it tends to be short-term, and instead focus on how you, as a leader, can meet their personal needs. But before we can do that we have to go back to management school…!
If you’ve ever studied management you’ve no doubt come across Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. I remember sitting in an exam hall drawing the triangle and filling it in from bottom to top to show that I understood this concept. Like everything in life, it’s great understanding something, that’s always the first step, but to truly know it we have to apply it to our own lives. Although the management studies have latched onto the Humanistic Perspective of Psychology (of which Maslow was a pioneer) these teachings go far beyond the 9 to 5 and have a huge impact on every decision we make and how we live our lives. Understanding Maslow’s needs and how they relate to you will help you understand what makes you tick. Understanding Maslow’s needs and how they relate to others will help you understand what makes them tick which will enable you to give them what they need regardless of the challenges in the work environment.
First off it’s important to recognise that Maslow got it half-right. He did accurately identify the human needs that are in each of us. However, these are not hierarchical, they are in fact, competing needs which we often, subconsciously, trade off against one another as we go about our daily lives. To summarise (see Figure 1), the first 4 needs are Security, Stimulation, Status and Social. No matter who we are or what country we live in we all must meet these needs on some level. How we meet these needs plays a huge role in who we become as a person and how we live our lives. The last need is Self-Actualisation and this can be defined as Growth and Contribution which, unlike the first 4 needs, the majority of people don’t pursue…to their detriment.
Let’s jump out of the text book and look at how the understanding of these needs can be applied in our lives.
Security and Stimulation
Security includes the needs for safety and certainty. Everybody wants stability about their basic necessities – food, shelter or other material resources. Security needs are important for survival; examples of security needs include a desire for steady employment, health insurance, safe neighbourhoods and shelter from the environment. When people cannot control their physical circumstances, they may seek a sense of security through a state of mind, such as religious faith or a positive outlook. It’s the desire to meet this need in people that causes such stress and fear to move forward during, say, an organisational restructure. People with a high need of Security in their lives struggle with change and are reluctant to go too far, too quickly, out of their comfort zone. As a leader, it is important to provide your people with the level of Security that they need by enforcing the good job they are doing (find something that they’re doing right and build on that). If any of your staff are messing up it is possible they are experiencing a level of trepidation about their future in their role or with the organisation and, if they’re need for Security isn’t being met by you, they will source it somewhere else, like, for example, with disgruntled colleagues. That way they’ll meet their need of Security (it’s a safe place to rant and “I know I’ll be accepted”) and their need for Society/Connection (see Part 2). Rather than leave them in the painful state of the unknown, why not provide them with a little Security in their role by, perhaps, defining a plan with them to help them overcome whatever limitations they are experiencing?
The conflicting need of Security is Stimulation (surprises, uncertainty). People have a need to change their state, to exercise their body and emotions. Therefore they seek variety through a number of means – stimuli, change of scene, physical activity, mood swings, entertainment, food, etc. How boring would your life be if you were certain about everything you did? This was the basic premise of Michael Douglas’s character in the movie, The Game. We need stimulation in our lives to challenge us, to help us grow, to help us expand our comfort zone. People with a high need of Stimulation in their lives are always looking for the next big challenge. During a restructure they are looking for the opportunities, “It’s about time!” they say, “Bring it on!” They’re not content living a life where everything is mapped out. Many people with this mind-set are entrepreneurs or adventurers and shake up their lives in different ways to meet this need. If you’ve got someone like this on your team and they are signalling to you they are getting bored and need a challenge it’s wise to listen because if that need isn’t being met by you they will seek it somewhere else…a new challenge potentially with a new company. Your organisation might be great, the pay might be great and the team might be great but that’s not enough for these people, they need to be stimulated and challenged.
Security and Stimulation are in direct competition with each other because even those with a high need for Security need some kind of Stimulation from time to time and the same goes for those whose need for Stimulation is high…living in a state of Stimulation all the time can be pretty exhausting!
In the next blog we’ll explore a little about the other of Maslow’s Human Needs: Status, Society and Self-Actualisation. If, in the meantime, you’re interested in exploring how your human needs are influencing the decisions you make and the direction of your life, or are just generally curious about how to identify these in others, please contact us at any time for a free consultation.