Addressing the core needs of your employees

Kerrie-Anne Chinn, Content & Editorial Manager

There’s no doubt about it, the modern workforce has become increasingly complex. Faced with heavy workloads, short turnaround times and high deliverables, many workers are being asked to continually do more – with less. It’s no wonder so many employees feel like they’re constantly running on empty. That’s why it’s so important to be aware of your core needs at work, if you want to start performing at your full potential.

For Laurie Coe, Vice President of The Energy Project, it’s evident that “the way we’re working is no longer working.” Coe believes that many employees aren’t able to perform at their full potential in today’s complex work environments.


Recently, The Energy Project partnered with the Harvard Business Review on a ‘Quality of Life @ Work’ assessment which examined the feelings and responses of 20,000 employees worldwide. The survey found that individuals have four core needs at work:

  • Physical – the need to rest and renew
  • Emotional – the need to feel cared for and valued
  • Mental – the need to be empowered to set boundaries and focus in an absorbed way
  • Spiritual – the need to find a sense of meaning and purpose at work

If you feel like you need to make a change in the way you work, you need to think about how you’re addressing your core needs. It’s also essential that managers pay attention to the needs of their employees, to maintain positive levels of productivity and engagement. Let’s look closer at these different types of employee needs.

Physical – Renew and Recharge

No matter what role or industry you work in, it’s important to take care of your physical energy. As the Energy Project’s report outlines, employees need regular periods of daytime rest to renew and recharge throughout the day. In fact, did you know that 90 minutes is the maximum amount of time humans can maintain attention on a task before losing focus?

After 90 minutes of being absorbed in any form of cognitive work, it's in your best interest to take a break – even if it’s a short one. This is because human beings are not machines. Our bodies need to work with our natural rhythms of renewal. Choosing to power through and continue working will only result in feelings of fatigue, irritation and lack of focus, which over time can lead to burn out.

So be sure to listen to your body throughout the day. Step away from your work, get a glass of water or cup of tea, or go for a short walk. If you’re an employer or manager, encourage workers to take regular breaks and lead by example in this practice.

Emotional – Safety and Trust

As well as looking after your physical wellbeing, it’s important to be aware of your emotional needs and how they’re being responded to. Even people who are quite assertive and confident in their personal life can struggle to express how they feel in the workplace.

While you may think that your feelings about your job can be kept separate from your actual work, your emotional energy has a very strong influence on how well you perform. Emotional energy needs to be fueled by a sense of satisfaction, safety and trust in your work environment. Feeling unsure, uncomfortable or unsafe at work will have a negative impact on your productivity and results.

On the other hand, feeling valued, respected and safe allows employees to focus and deliver their best results, while helping to foster a positive work culture.

Mental – Focus and Boundaries

These days, workers are presented with a continual stream of incoming information, more than any other generation before. Technology, for all its good points, allows us to be always available, always connected, always switched ‘on’.

This means we very seldom have the chance to switch ‘off.’ And being constantly interrupted by phone calls, text messages, emails and social media notifications makes it hard to focus all our attention on one task.

Protecting your mental energy is about making sure you allow yourself to focus – on one thing at a time. While some people think it’s impressive or cool to be constantly busy and doing ten things at once, it won’t do your career any favors. In fact, multitasking is not at all conducive to absorbing information and retaining focus, most often leading to lower quality work and higher levels of anxiety and burn out.

To protect your mental energy, you need to set firm boundaries and be self-disciplined. When you feel your focus drifting off, or feel tempted to break your attention and scroll through your phone, put those thoughts aside and refocus on just one task. While breaks are planned and deliberate, distractions aren’t – and worse, they can really derail you from your task. In fact, after being distracted or interrupted, it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to the task at hand. Is it worth checking that incoming text message or clicking over to read a news alert?

Leaders can help employees maintain focus and mental energy by respecting and encouraging these boundaries.

Spiritual – Meaning and Purpose

According to the Energy Project study, “no single factor influences people’s job satisfaction and likelihood to stay at an organization as much as feeling connected to their company’s mission.”

Having a sense of meaning and purpose in your job is what makes it feel worthwhile. Being connected to an overall mission and working in line with your own personal values is a large part of what makes most humans feel significant. It’s also essential if you want to find your work and career rewarding.

When managers actively support employees in nurturing this purposeful energy, they’re able to create a company culture that reflects this.

Whether you’re an employer or employee, paying attention to all four core needs is the best way to make a positive impact on your organization and your own work life. Next time you're running on empty, or feel like the way you’re working is no longer working, think about your own core needs and what needs to change so you can start performing at your full potential.


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