“You know, as most entrepreneurs do, that a company is only as good as its people. The hard part is actually building the team that will embody your company culture and propel you forward.” ~Kathryn Minshew, The Muse

Employees are the backbone of any organization. It all starts and ends with the people you spend every day with. This is why it’s worth spending time to understand your employees and their needs. And there’s an added bonus; Understanding your employees will help you understand yourself better.

You may be wondering, “Why am I talking about psychology in a workforce management blog?”

I’ll make it simple for you.

  1. A workplace is composed of people.
  2. People are psychological beings.
  3. A person’s psychological state affects their work performance.
  4. Work performance is directly linked to business success.

As psychological beings, we have desires, fears, hopes and dreams. We are capable of experiencing deep emotions like love, joy, gratitude, sadness, fear, anger and regret. We are capable of great good and of great evil. It’s beautiful and terrifying at the same time, if you think about it. We contain within us the seeds of destruction but also of life, despair but also joy, intense anger but also peace. In many ways, we are a walking contradiction.


Am I getting carried away?


All I’m trying to say is that we are complicated beings. And when you insert complicated beings into a complicated workplace, complications are going to happen.


As a business owner or manager, how can you address, or rather embrace the fragile yet powerful psychological reality of every single employee in your workplace?


Thankfully, author and psychologist Ron Friedman has spent years studying the inns and outs of workplace psychology and has published his findings in his very interesting book called The Best Place to Work. Below is a summary of the first of 3 important lessons in his book. (By the way, I highly recommend his book for any of you who are interested)

Lesson 1: Psychological needs are at the heart of employee engagement

According to a well-established psychological model known as self-determination theory[1], human beings have 3 basic psychological needs: a need for autonomy, competence and relatedness.

  1. Autonomy[2]: basically, the desire to be in control of our lives


We all want to be free, and we want to be able to express that freedom in meaningful ways. Friedman explains that autonomy comes when employees feel like they have a sense of choice on the job (270).

How can you create that in the workplace? Here are some of Ron Friedman’s tips:

  • Give employees opportunities to make their own choices
  • Offer flexibility on how and when a task is performed
  • Provide a rationale when tasks are presented
    Even more important than doing things (i.e. being productive) is understanding the reason(s) why you’re doing them. In most cases, the why is what fuels the doing. Research shows that when people are given a compelling reason to do something (a strong why), they expend more effort towards their goal and view their contributions as meaningful (270).
  • Minimize the focus on rewards 
    When employees are only rewarded for their successes (i.e. the things they do well), they tend to stick to the routines they’ve been rewarded for and very rarely try new approaches. Without trying new things, your business will slowly but surely be eclipsed by competitors. Instead, encourage your employees when they attempt new things and reward them when they try; it’s a great way to spark creativity in the workplace. The obvious risk is that this may lead to failure, but that’s good. Failure is a catalyst for growth and innovation.
  • Give your employees options as to where to do their work 
    The impact of environment on work performance is underestimated. Giving your employees the option to work from home, or the library, or the coffee shop can be just what they need to get their creative juices flowing again and for them to identify where they work best.
  • Allow them to have a say in the creation of the workplace itself
    Give your employees an opportunity to influence the shaping of your workplace: what’s in it, how things are placed and how it looks. They’ll feel more invested in it! And trust me, nobody likes that KISS poster you put in the back of the restaurant.
  • Delegate tasks to your employees, and make them in charge of the task
  1. Competence[3]: the ability to control the outcome of an activity and experience mastery of that task

How can you foster competence in your workplace?

  • Give immediate feedback: let your employees know how they are performing and how they can improve. They will learn much quicker that way.
  • Recognize your employees for their work: Not just any type or recognition though, Friedman explains. The best type of recognition is one that is given immediately, is specific, compliments the behavior and not the person, and is made publicly as opposed to privately (163-164).
  • Provide opportunities for growth
  • Empower your employees to find new challenges to master: Any task that is continuously repeated stops engaging the mind after a while. To keep your employees engaged, propose a new challenge, or let them come up with one themselves.
  1. Relatedness[4]: “interact with, be connected to, and experience caring for other people”

How can you foster interpersonal connectedness in your workplace?

You must allow for the development of close relationships amongst your employees. To do that, keep these factors in mind:
Proximity: we tend to like people who are physically closer to us
Familiarity: we tend to like people the more we see of them
Similarity: we tend to like people who are similar to us
Self-disclosure: we tend to like people who open up to us (i.e. demonstrate vulnerability)

With that in mind, here are some ways to strengthen social bonds at work:

  • Creating an onboarding process which involves other coworkers, so as to foster friendship
  • Offer nonwork activities that allow colleagues to collaborate through common goals 
    Are your coworkers not meshing? Try an immersive and interactive experience like Amaze, Laser Tag, or glow-in-the-dark Minigolf!
  • Build shared spaces that create opportunities for coworkers to bond, even when they’re not talking about work


The good news in all of this? You now know that meeting the psychological needs of your employees is the key to unlocking the benefits employee engagement bring to a workplace.

The even better news? You don’t need to spend an arm and a leg to make your workplace extraordinary. In fact, you don’t need to spend anything.


Finally, I challenge YOU to implement at least 1-2 of these tips and let us know in the comments what the results are. If the results are good, give us details on what went well.  If it was disastrous, let us know that too!


Friedman, Ron. The Best Place to Work: The Art and Science of Creating an Extraordinary Workplace. Perigee, 2015.

[1] Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. American Psychologist.

[2] Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. American Psychologist55, 68-78.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

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