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Psychological Needs at Work

2022.05.30


BSPACE

Every person has psychological needs. Fulfillment of these needs drives our thoughts and behaviors – consciously or subconsciously. The following six psychological needs are universal, even at work.

Belonging

Our sense of acceptance and inclusion in a group or community

Safety/Security

Our sense of safety and security

Purpose

Our contribution in a specific setting or our reason for being

Autonomy

Our independence and ability to exert control over our life

Connection

Our personal relationships with others

Expression

Our ability to sharing our thoughts, feelings, ideas, and sense of self

We each meet these needs in different ways. And in many cases the needs manifest in our personal values and beliefs.


Your Own Thoughts and Behaviors

Suppose you leave a meeting at work and are frustrated. Chances are one of the psychological needs wasn’t being met. If you felt excluded from the discussion with people talking over you, perhaps your need to belong was not met or it could be that your need for expression wasn’t met – or both. Maybe you didn’t speak up because you know you’d be criticized so your need for psychological safety would be violated. Maybe the meeting was pointless for you and so your purpose wasn’t aligned.

Suppose you are at work and feel invigorated. Was it because you got the greenlight to run a project as you see fit – honoring your need for autonomy or perhaps expression? Was it because you had a great discussion with a colleague and appreciate your connection? Did you get through a challenging conversation with your boss and are grateful you had the psychological safety to bring up the issue in the first place? Do you feel you can be your authentic self and express yourself accordingly?

Reflection

Take a moment and rank the six BSPACE needs in order of importance to you at work. Ties are okay. The point of the exercise is to see which ones might be more dominant for you in the workplace. It would be totally normal if you deprioritize one or more needs at work because you fulfill them elsewhere in your life.

For the next month, when you are jazzed about something or find a situation frustrating, see if you can name which BSPACE need is in play.

Here is a worksheet to help you dive deeper.

If you feel comfortable, you may start modeling to others by naming your BSPACE needs as they surface.

  • “Because we’re on such a tight deadline and everything needs to be coordinated lockstep with [other department], I’m noticing I’m itching for greater autonomy and expression.”
  • “Since I joined the [X] committee as our team’s representative, I’m noticing that I’m enjoying serving in that purpose as well as belonging to another group.”


Others’ Behaviors

As you become more aware of the way the BSPACE needs show up for you, you’ll likely start noticing them in others.

It’s actually a fun little game I like to play to myself - which BSPACE need is my colleague acting on? While I don’t know for sure if I’m right every time, some patterns are pretty obvious.

For example:

  • Complaints about being micromanaged or not having enough direction are usually indicators that autonomy is in play.
  • Strategizing ad nauseum on how to deliver unfavorable news to the boss suggests a lack of psychological safety.

For the next month, when a colleague is displaying positive or negative reactions to a situation, use your skills of observation and intuition and ponder to yourself which needs might be involved.

If you feel comfortable, you might introduce the BSPACE needs to your colleagues and use it as a shared language.


Conflict

Conflict in the workplace often arises because someone’s unstated needs are getting stepped on, or different parties have different needs as their top priority in a situation. The conflict might be internal (between you and yourself) or overt with a colleague.

Once you are adept at recognizing when your own BSPACE needs are not being met, you can choose how to proceed from a place of more perspective. Some needs you may seek to fulfill outside of work instead. For example, if you just don’t click with your boss but it’s not adversarial, you might choose to accept it and get your need for connection met with others. Other needs may remain important for you to meet at work, and so you can focus on specific strategies and tactics in support of that aim.

Being mindful of others’ potentially unmet needs helps me respond from a place of curiosity and openness instead of being prescriptive or judgmental.

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