December 01, 2022

The science of thriving at work

The Science of Thriving at Work: How Focus on Employee Needs Helps Employees and Organizations Thrive

Written by Ludmila Cofta-Woerpel, PhD, Bravely’s People Scientist

Why Employee Needs are Important

In the last few years organizations have been facing challenges related to the completely new reality in the work arena brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic coinciding with a stronger than ever emphasis on diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB). To meet the demands and expectations of this new workplace reality, organizations must focus on priorities related to the employees, such as engagement, performance, and retention. And research shows that these priorities are tied to employee needs. 

There are two ways in which employee needs affect how people function at work. One is that needs fulfillment results in a positive emotional state which is energizing and leads to positive pro-organization, work-oriented behaviors. This is how needs fulfillment drives engagement, performance and eventually retention.

On the other hand, unmet needs are blockers to employee engagement and performance. It is well established in science that our mental resources dedicated to information-processing, decision-making, managing emotions or executing willpower are limited. And unmet needs take up a lot of these resources. They put us in a scarcity mindset and compete very successfully for internal resources which could be used toward full engagement and optimal performance at work. 

What does all this mean for employee-centered organizational outcomes? It means that working toward needs fulfillment improves these outcomes. And understanding employee needs informs and guides such efforts. It is important to note that this approach is not about focusing on employee needs at the expense of business outcomes. On the contrary, this is about achieving business outcomes the smart way, through the improvement of engagement, performance and retention, which respond to fulfilling unmet needs.

Bravely Enables Needs-Based Approach for Organizations

You don’t have to work with Bravely to benefit from needs-based approach, but working with Bravely will give your organization access to incredibly rich, actionable data about the needs of your people. How Bravely achieved the ability to offer such valuable data is an interesting story. 

Bravely has always offered needs-based coaching delivered when needed, where needed. This needs-based coaching model is focused on meeting the needs of the coachee as they arise, on demand and just-in-time. And research shows that just-in-time interventions across the board are more effective compared to traditional interventions which are far removed in time from the situations in which they are meant to be helpful. For example, by the time a situation arises that calls for relevant skills taught in an earlier workshop, most of the learned knowledge is forgotten. But a just-in-time intervention delivers help exactly when it’s needed. 

Bravely’s needs-based coaching is very different from the traditional, more formulaic and prescriptive coaching model which focuses on competencies as a way to drive business outcomes. There is a place for competencies and competency training in a workplace to help people succeed in their roles and their careers, and to set expectations for their success. But the competencies-first approach is not concerned with needs fulfillment, does not represent employee needs and does not meet organizational challenges to understand employee needs.

By contrast, Bravely’s needs-first approach offers all of the above. Initially, while pursuing its trademark needs-based coaching, Bravely did not have a comprehensive knowledge of or a good frame of reference for employee needs. So the missing piece was to create such a framework and Bravely embarked on a project to do just that. The goal of the project was to identify and organize the needs that people have in relation to their work, career and workplace. In 2022, Bravely Employee Needs Framework was born along with the data collection assessments based on the framework. With that, all pieces have been in place for Bravely to enable a needs-based approach for organizations.

Bravely’s Employee Needs Framework

The framework consists of four levels, two of which are shown here.

Bravely's Employee Needs Framework

These upper levels are a result of organizing the 80 needs which emerged from the analysis of Bravely’s rich qualitative data from thousands of coaching sessions combined with the needs gleaned from the published scientific literature. In this way, the original pool of needs at the bottom of the framework is strictly data-based. Nothing was arbitrarily added to or removed from this pool of needs. But how they were organized upward using a bottom-up approach is a creative and proprietary achievement. The top two needs are called meta needs. A Need for Self-Actualization — originally conceptualized by Abraham Maslow — is defined as a need for fulfillment of one’s abilities, talents, and potential. This need is focused on the future or the present as it relates to the future. A Need for Current Well-Being refers to current and recent positive and negative experiences related to work that contribute to the individual’s sense of well-being. The focus of this meta need is on the present experience.

As you look at the diagram, you will notice that the needs under Self-Actualization overlap with Development and the needs under Current Well-Being overlap with Support. The arrow between the two groups of needs means that unmet needs under Current Well-Being can thwart needs fulfillment under Self-Actualization, so Current Well-Being needs are best addressed first. 

Based on this framework, Bravely designed assessments for employees and coaches to capture needs that employees consider to be important in their professional lives as well as needs discussed during coaching sessions. It is the data from these assessments that are a goldmine of information for Bravely’s clients to explore and act upon. 

How Organizations Can Use Needs Data

The benefits of needs data for organizations are many. Organizations can learn what needs their people have, how these needs change over time and how employee needs differ between the different segments of employees defined by demographics. Based on that information, organizations can monitor employee needs on an ongoing basis, see how needs change and capture any new needs or decreased importance of existing needs. They can act promptly and move from a reactive mode to a pro-active mode to continue to keep their employees satisfied and engaged, and to prevent losses that could occur due to the lack of knowledge of or inattention to employee needs.

Needs data will also inform organizations about the status of those needs that cannot be met directly by coaching because they are rooted in existing policies and regulations, and in organizational culture. These needs call for an internal organizational intervention and coaching can only play a supportive role here. Some of these needs are fundamental. Examples include a need for fair treatment or a need for relief from stress and burnout. Ignoring these needs may cost organizations a lot both in terms of profits and reputation.

Lastly, needs data can support organizational DEIB initiatives. One of the guidelines for research leading to Bravely’s Needs Framework was to pay special attention to the needs of marginalized populations. Moreover, the data resulting from framework-based assessments can be segmented to show the needs of the most vulnerable groups among employees. Such information is invaluable for designing effective DEIB programs. All these uses of needs data contribute to the improvement of engagement, performance and retention resulting in improved business outcomes. 

Bravely Model of Employee Needs Fulfillment

What will the consequences be for organizations that don’t embrace the focus on the needs of their people? We can imagine that the consequences will be opposite to the benefits of focusing on needs. Organizational lack of awareness of employee needs will equal inability to even try and meet these needs. These companies will stay in a reactive mode, occasionally forced to put out fires. They may end up dealing with low morale, disengagement, and underperformance among their employees, even leading to a damaged reputation as a good place to work. Finally, they may suffer losses that can occur due to the inattention to employee needs. 

The consequences of focus or lack of focus on needs are captured in the Bravely Model of Needs Fulfillment.

Bravely Model of Employee Needs Fulfillment

Unmet needs lead to disengagement and underperformance which get worse as needs continue to be unmet. The opposite happens when needs are met: engagement and performance gradually improve and employees can thrive! Not only that, but they are also motivated to give the company what the company needs, thus driving business outcomes. If this is not a win-win, what is? 

To hear even more about Bravely’s research on employee needs, watch the on-demand webinar The Science of Thriving at Work.

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