In the context of this article, a need is something that a person must have to be healthy, safe, happy, and productive. The topic of needs is relevant at any stage. It matters in any role we play, both in our personal and professional lives.  

Our core needs are universal to us humans. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is the most well-known model that differentiates five levels of needs: Physiological, Safety, Love & Belonging, Esteem, and Self-actualization. His motivational model suggested a pattern of how human motivation needs to move from physiological to emotional, to social, up to transpersonal. Now we know there is no linear pattern and these five levels of needs overlap. Our needs change depending on our life cycle and emotional and spiritual development and values. As we meet our basic needs, we transcend our self-limitations. We learn, grow, and ultimately evolve.

Core needs can become a compass for our lives and even turn into interests and values. When my daughters were growing up, one of my top needs was quality time with them. I wanted to be present in their school activities, attend meetings with teachers, and share leisure time. Sometimes, the logistics were very complicated with a demanding career, long commutes, house chores, sports, etc. As my daughters grew up and I became an empty nester, this need receded. Still having the value of family as my inner compass, other requirements became critical, such as caring for my elder parents and maintaining connections with my extended family.

Having unmet needs can negatively impact our happiness, motivation, and success. If we cannot articulate them, it would become challenging to satisfy them. How can we identify our needs?

  1. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is an excellent point to start to assess the current state. Someone currently unemployed might feel vulnerable in the area of their safety needs.
  2. The Center for Nonviolent Communication offers the Needs Inventory. This is a great place to engage in self-inquiry by identifying prevailing needs.
  3. An experienced coach can help you to become more aware of your needs. Coaching creates an ideal safe space to explore which ones show in what stage of life and how to meet them according to our priorities.
  4. The Birkman is the only assessment that reveals the invisible needs of the world around us, empowering people to be most productive in their careers. According to Birkman, Needs are Non-negotiable Expectations for Environments and Desired Situations.

Birkman’s definition of needs makes sense in the organizational context. Think about how unfulfilled needs and expectations in the workplace leads to frustration, stress, lack of productivity, and employee turnover. After Covid, we seem to be more interested in looking at our jobs with a different lens. Do we feel respected, valued, included, supported, and connected? Are we doing work that feels meaningful to us? If you are changing jobs because you are unhappy, take inventory of your unfulfilled needs. You want your next workplace to provide you with an environment where you can be at your best versus being stressed out most of the time. 

Needs also arise in our personal lives and the areas where we are feeling more distressed. We might need to rekindle our connection with our spouse, have some time for self-care, read a book, do leisure activities, or spend quality time with our children, away from the screen. Sometimes, we need to ask for what we need. Have you said yes when you wanted to say no? Creating healthy boundaries is a form of self-care that we should consider when meeting our needs. 

Understanding our needs give is a way to respond to them. Instead of thinking that something is wrong with us, and we shouldn’t feel so needy or vulnerable, we can honor our needs because they send us signals that we have gone out of balance. We can then learn to have self-compassion for those times when we need to stop and catch up with ourselves, even if that takes just a short walk in the park.

If you are a leader, it is even more critical to recognize your own needs and find a way to align with them. You will be more authentic if you realize that you have needs and that it is ok to take care of yourself as a human being. When you put on your oxygen mask first, you can become more empathetic when balancing your own needs and you will contribute to creating a more humane place to work.

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