27 Jan Six powerful emotional needs that managers should watch out for
This article, first published in Management Today, provides a checklist of six powerful emotional needs. When met these needs reduce stress and stimulate motivation and higher productivity
As though businesses have not got enough to cope with, stress surrounding Covid-19 working arrangements risks hampering business recovery. While many have felt the benefits of working from home, studies have also shown that levels of stress, anxiety and presenteeism have increased.
Managers need to be aware of the emotional needs of those within their team. Higher stress levels are likely to impair focus, rational thinking, empathy with customers and colleagues, and creative problem-solving. If our emotional needs go unmet, ignored or violated it can trigger a stress response.
Here is a brief checklist of emotional needs to pay attention to, how they might be triggering stress and how to potentially alleviate them. You may already be fulfilling many of these, but it can never hurt to double check.
This need includes freedom from fear of a range of factors such as redundancy, major change, physical intimidation and of course the current fears about contagion.
To start with, check that remote workers are in safe working environments. For example, they may be sharing accommodation which is now too cramped with others in the household also working from home. Is their equipment adequate? Hunched over a laptop for months at a time can cause all kinds of musculoskeletal problems. Providing the necessary equipment will yield higher productivity and less time off dealing with chronic anxiety, carpal tunnel syndrome, repetitive strain injury and other stress related symptoms.
For returning employees, you are probably already doing risk assessments and making the place as safe as feasible. But reassurance is key here. Make sure everyone knows you are doing all you can to make the premises safe.
Minimal or zero interaction with management and colleagues will fuel feelings of insecurity about redundancy. Likewise, there may be fear around ‘group survival’. A remedy to both is to explain the difficulties the business faces and invite both feedback and ideas to ease the business problems. A collaborative effort to help company survival, even via video conferencing, helps meet the needs for both personal and group security and can lead to heightened sense of loyalty, conscientiousness and focus.
2. A sense of autonomy and control
The current restrictions on independence and freedom are another potential stress trigger, especially where remote workers feel excluded from crucial decision-making in the office. As above, use video conferencing to involve people in safety measures and recovery planning. This involvement helps alleviate stress but also induces people to take greater responsibility for group outcomes and to go with the flow of change.
3. Emotional connection to the people around us and feeling part of a wider community
Remote working dilutes quality relationships between co-workers and disconnects people from the daily companionship of their peer group. Video conferencing is no substitute for casual physical interaction.
Over time extended isolation will impinge on these two needs and this can be as harmful to health as smoking. Try arranging regular on-site meetups for remote workers so they can catch up both with their usual colleagues and people outside their own immediate team.
4. Attention (giving and receiving)
Remote working is both accentuating this need and rendering it more difficult to provide. A Zoom session obscures too many signals of distress, body language and so on that would normally alert you to an impending problem.
This means focus on your people skills and adopt more of a coaching mode. Take extra time out for one-to-one catch ups and short daily team meetings with the purposes of checking progress and listening intently to expressed concerns whilst probing for hidden ones.
5. A degree of achievement and a feeling of competence
Without regular positive and negative feedback, employees have little reference as to how well they are doing, and this raises doubts as to their safety within the organisation. So, make frequent use of video communication tools to help alleviate this.
Similarly, the lack of informal encounters with expert colleagues and managers impairs valuable ‘subliminal’ learning. Newly qualified employees or new recruits are particularly vulnerable to this problem. Again, make a point of ensuring that workers feel free and relaxed to seek help when needed.
6. Regularity of routine
Humans thrive off regular routines. Unfortunately, home workers are often reluctant to stop work, so leading to longer working hours. This might seem a bonus for the company in the short term. However, over time overwork and long hours will gradually become stressful.
If left unchecked, overwork leads to lower productivity and more serious health issues such as chronic anxiety, depression, high blood pressure etc. Try to ensure your employees are getting a healthy work-life balance by using measures such as digital check ins.
The above checklist is not comprehensive. Other needs to look out for are: the need for privacy; friendship, fun and peak experiences; a degree of status and recognition; the need for challenges and problems to solve; and the need for some sort of meaning to our work.
Jeremy Old is a management coach and author of ‘Reinventing management thinking – using science to liberate the human spirit’