|credit: Wil Stewart|
For those in the working world (whether self-employed or at an employer), work can be both a source of pride and accomplishment as well as deep dissatisfaction. Often the dissatisfaction comes from the stress of tight deadlines or difficult interactions with clients or colleagues. But it also comes from a more subtle place.
When work fails to fulfill our BSPACE needs (belonging, security, purpose, autonomy, connection, expression) we perceive the incongruence and subsequently experience some underlying stress. The stress could be low-level, barely registering but ever present, or it could clearly and distinctly announcing itself.
How well is your current work meeting your BSPACE needs?It can be helpful to periodically reflect upon each of the following needs as they relate to your work (perhaps once a quarter).
Belonging - our sense of acceptance and inclusion in a group or community.
Think of your workplace as a whole as the “community” in this context. Overall, you may feel like you fit in with the broader culture where you work or you may not. Additionally, you are likely a part of formally defined groups (e.g., project team, business unit) and groups that are more informal in nature (e.g., peers who go to coffee together). Each group has its own structure and dynamic and may or may not make you feel accepted and included.
Security - encompasses our ability to meet our basic physiological and psychological needs.
In the modern world, income from working is one of the fundamental ways we manifest security. It allows us to meet our needs for shelter, food, clothing, etc. It can also allow us to save for the future and to protect against the unforeseen (e.g., purchasing insurance). The income from your work may or may not be adequate to meet your basic needs. Further, it may or may not be adequate for your lifestyle choices or to service debt that the-you-of-the-past incurred.
Purpose - refers to our contribution in a specific setting (or our reason for being).
Having your need for purpose met doesn’t mean you have to feel passionate about your work or even enjoy it (but yay if you do!). Purpose is about feeling that your efforts make a difference (big or small). For example, if you write a report, does someone read it and do something with the information or does it just sit there unread? If you feel that your contributions are a part of accomplishing the work at hand, then you are on some level fulfilling your need for purpose. If, however, your contributions are ignored or overruled you may think “what’s the point” and feel a lack of purpose at work.
Autonomy - refers to our independence and ability to exert control over our life.
The amount of autonomy you have at work will vary with your abilities, experience level, the nature of the work, the manager you have, the workplace culture, and other factors. I think at one point or another, we’ve all had the experience of being micromanaged. The dissatisfaction you feel when someone is breathing down your neck on every little detail is from your need for autonomy. On the flip side, some people thrive when their work is entirely self-directed while others need more guidance.
Connection - is our relationships with others.
In some respects, connection is similar to belonging, but belonging has to do more with groups while connection has to do with individual relationships. It doesn’t have to be a deeply personal connection in which you share all the details of your life – rather that you feel comfortable or click with some individuals at work. Sometimes dissatisfaction arises when there is someone at work with whom you have trouble connecting.
Expression - refers to our need to share our thoughts, feelings, ideas, and sense of self.
There are many ways to express one’s self at work. It could be through the clothing you wear or how you decorate your space. It could be through speaking up at meetings or through casual conversations. For some people, a strict corporate dress code or rules on personal decorations can be excruciating while for others they are neutral. Everyone, however, wants to be able to express their thoughts and ideas and have them acknowledged and considered.
Relative Importance of Each NeedRegardless of your current work situation, it can be helpful to rank the needs in order of importance to you as they relate to work in general. For me that looks like:
1 Purpose & Autonomy (tie)
6 ConnectionYour ranking can help you when thinking about new opportunities and when evaluating them against your existing role.
Fulfillment LevelIt can also be helpful to assign a value between 0% and 100% to indicate how well your current work fulfills each need. One of the jobs I’ve had I would have assigned the following: Purpose (50%), Autonomy (90%), Security (60%), Belonging (50%), Expression (75%), and Connection (90%).
I ended up quitting that job in 2013. In retrospect, it’s not hard to see why - but the time I just knew that I wasn’t happy doing it.
If your current work is consistently meeting all five needs at a level that sustains you – congratulations! While you’ve still got stress in your work, it’s likely not from one of these underlying needs going unmet. I once had a job that hit all the marks in terms of needs but I ended up leaving it because of its geographical location.
Should I Stay or Should I go?There’s no magic formula for whether to continue your current work or look for something else. If your work doesn’t meet all of the underlying needs here are a couple of questions to ask yourself.
- Is the work meeting your highest ranked needs? If your top two or three needs are being met at a high level, then perhaps you are willing to sacrifice the others.
- Are your needs being met outside of work? If your work hits the mark in at least one area, and your other needs are fulfilled through other avenues, then perhaps it’s not the time to make a change.