Whenever I have an executive coaching client tell me he is struggling at work or in life generally, I engage him in a conversation about the six universal needs to thrive.
The first need is respect. We need to be around people who are courteous and considerate. When we are around people who are patronizing, condescending or passive aggressive, it sucks the life out of us and keeps us from thriving.
The next need is recognition. When we are around people who recognize our task strengths and/or character strengths, it energizes us. It’s almost as if we have an emotional battery that needs to be recharged periodically. The problem is that the plug in for our emotional battery is on our back and exactly in a place we can’t reach. As such, we need to rely on the people around us to charge our emotional battery. If it’s not charged, we feel emotionally and physically drained.
The third need is to belong. It’s like the old television comedy “Cheers” which was described as a place where “everybody knows your name.” When we are a part of a group, a family so to speak, we are more resilient to get through the inevitable difficult seasons in life. And let me tell you EVERYONE has them. Sickness, death, job loss, divorce, depression, etc. are part of life. It’s the group of people we belong to who help us through those times because they care. And they’ll also tell us when we have food on our chin and look silly or we are doing something that’s unwise. They care enough to tell us what we need to hear and to be there for us when we need them.
Notice that the first three needs — respect, recognition and belonging — are “relational needs.” When these needs are met, people describe it as “feeling connected” to the people around them.
The next two needs are “task mastery needs.” One of them is the need for autonomy. We need the freedom to do our work. When we are micromanaged or slowed down by red tape, bureaucracy or control-obsessed personalities (think Nurse Ratched from the movie “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”), we can’t thrive.
The next task mastery need is to experience personal growth. When we are engaged in a task that is a good fit with our strengths and it provides the right degree of challenge, we experience a state that psychologists describe as “flow.” Flow is like being in a time warp. Time flies by because when we become so immersed in the task we are performing and it provides the optimal degree of challenge. If is under-challenging, we are bored. If is is over-challeging, we are stressed out. With the right degree of challenge, we are energized.
When the task mastery needs are met, people describe it as “feeling connected” to their work.
The last need is what philosophers call an “existential” need. It is the need for meaning. When we are engaged in work that is important to us in some way, we put more effort into it. When our work has meaning, we feel a sense of significance. This is energizing too. People inevitably describe meaning as “feeling connected” to the work they are doing and/or to the people in their lives.
When the six universal needs to thrive are met, we feel connected.
Right now, economic turmoil, has made a lot of people anxious. It’s a good time to pause and reflect on our lives in relation to the universal needs to thrive. Better yet, call up a friend and go meet them for coffee, go for a walk or out for a meal. Print out this blog post and just talk together about how the six needs are being met in your lives. Consider what you might do to help one another become more connected to the people around you and to your life’s work. Understanding these needs and how they are met in our day-to-day lives in key to both employee engagement and to experiencing joy in life.