Abraham Maslow wrote, what is still to this day, one of the most recognized theories on human motivation. Maslow proposed we have a hierarchy of needs. He described this as the pattern/sequence that human motivations generally move through. The most fundamental and basic three layers of the pyramid contain what Maslow called “deficiency needs”. They are:
- physiological or survival
- safety and security
- love and affection
If these “deficiency needs” are not met then we will experience anxiety. If we satisfy these, they go away. It only makes sense that we have to satisfy these basic needs before we can proceed to the “higher” needs. These needs function mostly outside of our awareness in that they form part of our drive to survive. We are almost instinctively motivated to satisfy them.
If our basic deficiency needs are met, then we can focus on our growth needs. These are based on esteem and self-actualization, reaching your full potential in life. If we don’t have a desire to learn, develop and grow as individuals, our motivation will end here. If our basic needs are satisfied, we will stop feeling motivated and driven unless we set higher goals and find a higher purpose for our lives. People who have a sense of life purpose or calling are highly motivated and they stay motivated beyond the satisfaction of their basic needs. This is where life goals, dreams, aspirations, purpose and meaning come into play. If we satisfy these needs, they grow.
One of they key points Maslow was trying to make is that in order for us to reach our full potential, our basic needs have to be satisfied. Similarly in the workplace humans have four core needs that have to be met for performance and wellness to be optimized:
Physical: These needs are met by establishing an environment that provides the physical biological requirements that contribute to health and wellness. This includes access to nutrition, hydration, an active lifestyle as well as rest and recovery. This is what people physically need to renew and recharge their energy. It may not be that the employer actually provides the basic products, but at least emphasizes the importance thereof, educate employees and support a culture and environment that makes it easy or accesable.
Emotional: Individuals feel that their emotional needs are met when they feel valued and appreciated for their contributions. Naturally they actually have to contribute value. With value contribution I mean leaving something in a better condition than found in. People should be encouraged to contribute value to themselves, their personal environment and their extended environment.
Mental: Mental needs are met when people have the opportunity to focus, in an absorbed way, on the most important tasks. This will provide the individual a place to exercise task engagement and task mastery. This means they will experience achievement which is associated with reward-gratification. We experience this when we have goals and challenges in our environment that is matched by our skills and strengths. This means we have to experience success, big or small on a regular basis.
Spiritual: By feeling connected to a higher purpose at work. This is the level of purposeful motivation we experience. This can be achieved by the pursuit of meaningful life goals and purposeful activities and helping co-workers see how their personal goals are connected to the organization’s goals and larger purpose.
If most of these needs are met, individuals are likely to experience improved self-esteem, self-efficacy, recognition, purposeful motivation, gratitude, calmness and trust.
According to Dr. Ian Weinberg, neuro-surgeon and neuro-scientist, this is a very good place to be as these states or feelings give rise to a neuro-psychological profile (hormonal chemistry) that supports increased neuroplasticity. If people were to experience neuroplasticity, they will be more thoughtful, creative and open to new ideas. They will have the ability to organize new information, keep that information in the brain longer, and retrieve it faster when needed. They also become more skilled at complex analysis and problem solving and see and invent new ways of doing things. This leads to structural changes in the brain that will enhance their success and survival as well as provide them with the ability to change through new insights and beliefs.
Alongside the increase in neuroplacticity, the individual experiences the following on a neuro-psychological level. The above mentioned states or emotions activates certain areas of the brain (pre-frontal cortex, nucleus accumbens and hippocampus) that in turn stimulates the prodcution of dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin. All hormones involved with the reward/motivation centres of the brain supporting immunity, memory, learing, and attention (in other words productivity and wellness).
This hormonal profile also suppresses the production of adrenalin, cortisol and pro-inflammatory cytokines, the hormones/neurotransmitters associated with negative mind-states like fear, stress and anxiety (It also supresses the amygdala, the part of the brain primarily involved with states of fear, anxiety, panic and rage.) This hormonal cocktail, if left unchecked, causes chronic inflamation in the body and suppresses the immune function. Naturally this translates to impaired wellness, reduced performance and a decrease in neuroplasticity.
So, when these four core needs or conditions are not met, employees are more likely to experience chronic feelings or states of purposelessness, fear and stress. This will then lead to the increased production of hormones like adrenaline, cortisol and pro-inflammatory cytokines, that if remains persistently high, leads to chronic inflammation in the body, which is the precursor of cardiovascular disease (heart attacks, strokes etc.), neuro-degenerative disease (Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Motor-neuron disease etc.) and cancer. There is also a negative feedback loop at play within the body, in that the more negative emotions one experience, the higher the ratio of ‘bad’ hormones will be, leading to more negative emotions and ultimately disease and death.
PNE or psychoneuro-endocrinology is a new field of medical scientific research that explains how our immunity is influenced by mental activity. In other words the influence of mind-states, positive or negative, upon wellness and performance. The findings resulting from this research can play an invaluable role in managing the wellness and performance of our co-workers in today’s world. As profound as these findings are, it’s not new. Psychiatrist and neurologist Victor Frankl profoundly illustrated the concept during WWII when he observed those who survived and those who succumbed in Nazi concentration camps. He noted that only those who retained meaning and purpose in their lives survived. Once an individual lost the purpose to live they succumbed to fatal infections, in other words loss of immunity, or else they weakened physically, were unable to work and were selected out for extermination. In other words meaning and purpose impacts favourably on physical wellness and performance.
Needless to say there are other variables outside the workplace that influence our mind-states; immunity and performance. However, I believe in focusing on what falls within the parameters of our control. The more effectively leaders and organizations support co-workers in meeting these core needs, the more likely they will experience health, engagement, productivity, loyalty, job satisfaction and positive energy at work. This will also reduce their levels of stress, sickness, absenteeism etc. When people have one need met, compared with none, all of their performance variables improve. The more needs met, the more positive the impact.
In summary people are vastly more satisfied, productive and motivated, it turns out, when these four core needs are met:
- Physical through opportunities to improve health/wellness so that they can regularly renew and recharge energy
- Emotional by contributing value and feeling valued and appreciated for their contributions
- Mental when they have the opportunity to focus, in an absorbed way, on their most important tasks and
- Spiritual by doing more of what they do best and enjoy most, and by feeling connected to a higher purpose at work
About the author: Reinhard Korb is a thought leader in the combined application of nutrition, exercise, neuroscience and mindfulness. He helps optimize health, wellness and performance in his clients. As the founder of Thrive, he has facilitated and helped various organisations and individuals actualize their potential and achieve peak performance states. He is a certified Fitness & Nutrition Coach, Meta Coach, Neuro Coach, Stress Management Coach and Wellness Coach