Why aren’t people’s personal needs being met at work?

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With current engagement and motivation levels notoriously low across the globe, recent research revealed that the most demotivated workers in the UK are 20-year olds. But commonly across the age spectrum the most frequently cited unmet needs at work are those of work-life balance, freedom and autonomy.

In my opinion, there are three core reasons for this massive disconnect - leader’s bandwidth, colleagues’ passivity and skills and capability gaps - and there are three ways we can help to address these issues to help people’s personal needs become better met at work.

Leader’s Bandwidth

With the accelerated pace of change in society, significant cultural and generational shifts are taking place. Change-fatigued and time poor, many leaders simply do not have the bandwidth to notice, keep up with the changing needs and learn how to adapt their style to different colleagues accordingly.

While times have changed, too often leaders make the assumption that other people’s needs are the same as their own – but frequently they are not and the gulf of unaddressed needs becomes wider. ‘The Motivation at Work report’ by Full Potential Group identified a third of 20-year-olds believed their work-life balance was suffering, while 25% said they were stressed and 22% said they hated workplace bureaucracy.

All of which meant they gave their motivation levels 5.9 out of 10.

The study found that 51-year-olds said their needs were most fully met, scoring their motivation 7.7 out of 10. What was important to them was not only flexible working, but opportunities to learn and develop their expertise.

Colleagues’ Passivity

The legacy of traditional command and control cultures remain hard to fully shake off in some organisations. People wait for direction and help.

They have become so used to being told what to do while still waiting for the next wave of change to break, that they passively wait for their organisation or their line manager to address their needs for them, thinking “it’s my manager’s job to engage and motivate me”. 

When nothing happens and they feel ignored, people become disillusioned, disengaged and even more needy – so it becomes a vicious cycle.

Skills and Capability Gaps

As a result of organisational and financial pressures, many leaders are challenged with achieving more with fewer people and lack the cut-through skills and tools to understand the real needs and motivational drivers of their colleagues. 

In many of my motivational skills workshops 50% of leaders don’t know their own needs and drivers, let alone have the ability to recognise other people’s. Intellectually they understand the need to coach and empower people and enhance their autonomy and ownership, but in reality, they lack the confidence and/or capability to ask powerful open questions, to actively listen and to reflect back to clarify and address these needs.

To resolve this motivational disconnect there are three core ways these issues can be addressed while supporting all age groups in an organisation.

Support and upskill leaders to build an empowering culture and environment

There are 10 keys to an empowering culture, which naturally lead to greater autonomy and freedom to help people proactively address their needs, challenges and opportunities. These are:

  • Giving accountable freedom
  • Providing clarity of authority and permission
  • Being clear about expectations, goals, ideal outcomes and time scales
  • Removing any barriers and blocks to achieving the goals
  • Ensuring alignment of people’s personal needs with the values and drivers of the organisation
  • Providing regular feedback on a 5:1 ratio of positive to critical
  • Supporting people to be their best self, encouraging their authentic charisma
  • Staying out of the way and accepting mistakes as learning
  • Developing skills to coach, analyse and solve problems
  • Providing accurate and timely information, plus relevant resources

By addressing all 10 keys a leader will develop a solid empowering culture and enable people to develop their own autonomy and freedom.

Develop leader’s understanding of their own and their team’s needs and motivational drivers

Take the work ‘Drive’ by Daniel Pink, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, or Hertzberg's Motivator Hygiene Theory – they show that your success and happiness, in or outside of work, is determined by whether your individual motivators are being met (which isn't necessarily about remuneration or reward).

The latest body of work on motivation has been created by James Sale and is called 'Motivational Mapping'. This provides easy language and a pragmatic way to help leaders and their teams understand their motivational drivers and how to ensure different needs are met quickly and easily.

Essentially, leaders learn to recognise the nine different motivational drivers. Knowing their own top three drivers through a motivational mapping tool and those of their colleagues enables leaders to adapt their leadership style accordingly. While they also become aware of people's de-motivators to avoid wasting energy.

For example, the 'Defender' seeks security, predictability and stability.  Boosting their motivation involves regular communication, and continuity. While the 'Friend' seeks belonging, friendships and fulfilling relationships. They are motivated when they have a good social working environment and feel supported, consulted and involved. 

Other examples include the 'Star', who seeks recognition, respect and social esteem. They like visible perks that link to their position, clear hierarchical structures, job titles and the opportunity to shine and the 'Director' seeks power, influence and control over people and resources.

They like management or leadership roles with clear and visible responsibility, promotion and career prospects. Other types include the 'Searcher', the 'Spirit', the 'Creator', the 'Expert’ and the 'Builder'.

Bosses need to understand their own drivers and those of their own teams to boost workplace motivation and ignite the hot buttons of their colleagues.

Build greater coaching capability amongst leaders so they recognise and act on ‘coachable moments with people every day

By developing leaders’ own coaching capabilities as a natural part of their leadership style, using a model such as the VITAL coaching model can provide a fail-safe tool to address needs in the workplace every working day.

Firstly, V = Verify Reality, so make sure you ask questions to explore what’s happening and ascertain the current state of play. Then the:

  • I = Ideal Outcome, so ask questions to help the person understand what they are trying to achieve and what success will be.
  • T = Tackle the Gaps, helping people to explore what the gaps between the reality and ideal are and what they need to do to remove them is key.
  • A = Agree Action, given everything above, what are the most significant actions to take to achieve the ideal?
  • L = Learning and Review, a very important final stage of the process to build an empowering learning culture.

By using these three core elements to address engagement and motivation, leaders will tackle the challenges of bandwidth, colleagues’ passivity and skills and capability gaps head on and help to develop engagement and motivation levels to new heights.

About Carole Gaskell

Carole Gaskell

Carole Gaskell is Founder and Managing Director of Full Potential Group, one of the UK's top leadership development, team performance and coaching companies. The company has developed over 300,000 people in over 1,000 organisations, including companies such as Nationwide, Tesco, Heinz, United Utilities and Diabetes UK.

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