There are two basic human needs: Connection and meaning.
If you don't get them at work, you're not going to like your job very much.
We want to be connected to other people, and we want to know that we're making a difference.
It's doesn't matter whether you're a CEO, file clerk or soccer coach. Most people want to be part of something larger than themselves, and they want to know that their contribution counts for something.
This is where most organizations, and frankly most leaders, fall short. They get so focused on the tasks, they neglect these two critical human elements.
Think about the complaints that people have about their jobs:
"I work my buns off, and nobody appreciates it."
"My boss doesn't even know what I do."
"All this company cares about is money."
Gallup's most recent research suggests that only 29 percent of the U.S. workforce is actively engaged. Fifty-five percent is not engaged, and 16 percent is actively disengaged.
That means that more than 70 percent of workers are just going through the motions, or worse, they're actively at odds with their employer.
Is it because they're in the wrong jobs, or they don't have any work ethic?
More likely, the larger percent of disengaged workers are disengaged, not because they're lazy or incompetent. They're disengaged because their organizations haven't provided the connection and meaning they crave.
The great news for managers is that meeting these intrinsic needs doesn't cost an organization a dime.
Here's how anyone can tap into the big two human needs and help their organizations stay productive, engaged, and, dare I say it, happy:
1. Connection -- Get emotional.
Whenever I bring up emotions in the workplace, executives tend to get uneasy. But did you ever notice that you never hear managers saying, "Please don't get so excited," or, "Please quit being so happy."
The reality is emotions are at the center of everything human beings do. The leadership challenge isn't to avoid them; it's to ignite the positive ones.
What might happen if you walked in one day, looked one of your employees in the eye, and told him or her, "I'm so grateful you're on our team. It's not just about the work; it's about how much you as a person add to this place. I love having you here."
It sounds hokey, but every time I discuss this in a workshop, people's eyes brim up with tears. Human connection isn't nice to have; it's a must-have. Meaningful connections provide people with the internal fortitude necessary to stay productive during tough times.
2. Meaning -- Provide Context.
We all want to know that we make a difference in the world. When you put someone's work into a meaningful context, you tap into the deepest yearning of their soul.
The challenge is that most people's days are so hectic and their jobs are so compartmentalized that they often miss the larger story of how their work impacts the lives of others.
The key here is making it personal. It's easy to say, "Our company provides products that make organizations more efficient." But that's hardly a reason for someone to go the extra mile. However, if you tell a story about a real live human being -- be it a co-worker, end user, or customer -- who was impacted by your team's work, people are going to take more pride and become more engaged.
Connection and meaning. It's really that simple. And it's really that hard.