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Taking Care of Our Basic Needs - at Work

In my quest as a leadership and organisational change specialist, I’ve come to appreciate that organisations - i.e. people doing things together - are built on a complex social fabric, with a range of basic human needs that require care and attention. Leaders that understand this create more powerful, healthy groups - and they become that too.   

So how do we identify these needs? How do they work? And how can we as teams ensure they are nurtured so we can remain motivated and achieve our best?

To take myself as a case in point: in April 2016, I was out working with a range of clients, travelling to different businesses and project teams, in different countries, to support their leadership and organisational changes.

I began to experience various physical symptoms of not being well, despite mentally and emotionally feeling great and in high spirits - so I thought.

Something in my body was telling me “something is not right here.” The acid reflux up my throat, the headaches, the aching arms - with my sympathetic nervous system clearly kicking in, to help my body “survive”.

GP tests showed nothing sinister, physically, so perhaps something of a mix of physical AND psychological was at play, even though I couldn’t see it.

It was here that my question emerged – “How am I taking care of MY basic needs?

It’s here that I re-connected with Abraham Harold Maslow’s work on “Theory of Human Motivation” – on basic physical AND psychological needs. His work shines a light on our desire to fulfill basic needs, so we can feel happy and safe - both physically AND psychologically.

It’s often represented by the familiar rainbow-coloured pyramid, which segments our needs into a hierarchy, escalating from Physiological and up into Safety, Love & Belonging, Esteem, and finally a need for Self-Actualisation at its peak.

Naming these needs is just the start. Using his ideas, organisational performance is reliant on these needs being met, and that we appreciate that these needs are not independent of one another.

At a time when the idea of the workplace and the nature of work is under continual transformation, it is easy to forget we have basic needs that require our careful investment.

An ‘always-on’ culture at work, of constantly checking our phones for messages and emails, being under increasing cost and deadline pressures, or going through major organisational restructures - means we risk fulfilling more “surface” needs, at the expense of “core needs” – and risk abandoning our peace of mind and connection to what really motivates us to perform our best.

Through 2016, I used Maslow’s ideas to do a complete review of each of MY basic needs – and my biggest insight was that I was denying myself investment in my own psychological needs - ironic as my day job is often to help others do this very thing.

So whatever your role, start to think about the micro-moments at work that make a difference to all the basic needs. Invest in them and nurture, because they are at the heart of your company’s overall performance.

Question - How are YOU REALLY taking care of ALL THESE basic human needs at work, as an essential part of everyday organisational life? Including your own ?

Steve Holliday
Leadership & Organisational Change Specialist, Lacerta Consulting Service Ltd