3 Psychological Nutrients Workers Need to Reverse the Great Resignation

These three items are the key to increasing worker engagement, commitment, performance, and mental health.

These three items are the key to increasing worker engagement, commitment, performance, and mental health.

When faced with a nutrient deficiency, people seek to replenish. When we are physically malnourished, we find sustenance. Same holds true mentally.

Psychologists, Edward Deci and Richard Ryan, have identified the three human psychological needs necessary for optimal human functioning. The universal and innate psychological nutrients are competency, autonomy, and relatedness. Satisfaction of these basic needs promotes mental health and intrinsic motivation which drives engagement and higher performance at work.

A deficiency in any of these three psychological nutrients is causing workers to look elsewhere to get nourishment. When all three psychological nutrients are satisfied--autonomy, competence, and relatedness--workers experience the highest quality motivation that fuels passion, engagement, and commitment. Might these psychological nutrients hold the key for reversing the Great Resignation?

Psychological Nutrient #1: Autonomy

Autonomy is the agency to do things on your terms. It's the freedom of external constraints on behavior. Autonomy does not mean to be independent of others, but rather constitutes a feeling of overall psychological liberty and freedom of internal will. When a person is autonomously motivated their performance, wellness, and engagement is heightened rather than if a person is told what to do.

Autonomy is the opposite of micromanagement. Workers feel empowered when they have choice and when they are trusted to make the right decisions. Increasing someone's options and choices has been proven to increase their intrinsic motivation.

Workers who have clear direction and the freedom to act on their own accord with the ability to take direct action satisfy their psychological nutrient of autonomy.

What workers will say if they quit due to an autonomy deficiency?

    • Manager was too hands-on or micromanaged
    • Want more independence
    • Want more work-life balance
    • Want more career paths
    • Conflicted with workplace policy

How much autonomy does your team have to think and act on their own terms?

Psychological Nutrient #2: Competence

Competence is the need to feel capable. Competence occurs when someone is able to effectively meet the demands of their environment. Competency evokes feelings that someone is good at something.

When workers feel competent, they feel what they do is effective and masterful and can contribute to accomplishing worthwhile goals. Relevant feedback and expressing strong beliefs in the capabilities of others is key for satisfying the psychological nutrient of competence.

What workers will say if they quit due to a competence deficiency?

    • Need more of a challenge
    • Feeling uninspired
    • Want to feel valued
    • Lack of job growth or career advancement
    • Need more feedback
    • Want more recognition
    • Vague goals or no direction
    • Clearer company vision

Does your team feel competent in that they have the right skills and tools to contribute?

Psychological Nutrient #3: Relatedness

Relatedness is the need to feel involved with others. Relatedness is shorthand for being connected to colleagues, friends, family, and community. Humans have an innate need to belong. It is important to both make a contribution to the group and to feel cared for by the group.

Workers who are personally and emotionally connected to their colleagues and manager satisfy the psychological nutrient of relatedness.

Relatedness is perhaps the most crucial psychological nutrient because high-quality relationships are able to provide individuals with a bond to another person while simultaneously reinforcing their needs for autonomy and competence.

What workers will say if they quit due to a relatedness deficiency?

    • Seeking a better management relationship
    • Poor relationships with coworkers
    • Looking to live somewhere else
    • Company culture isn't a fit

How connected does your team feel to one another?
Looking for a way to measure how disconnected your team is and gain custom solutions for improving your team's connections? Check out the Team Connection Assessment™ here. It’s empirically validated to measure the strength and quality of connections teams have with their teammates, manager, and the work itself.

Ryan Jenkins, CSP® (Certified Speaking Professional)™,  is an internationally-recognized keynote speaker, virtual trainer, and three-time published author. His latest book is Connectable: How Leaders Can Move Teams From Isolated to All In. For a decade, he has helped organizations optimize generational dynamics, lessen worker loneliness, and prepare for the future of work. He is also co-founder of LessLonely.com, the world’s first resource fully dedicated to reducing worker isolation and strengthening team connections. Ryan lives in Atlanta, GA with his wife, three children, and yellow Labrador. Learn more at RyanJenkins.com.

Need help strengthening the connections across your team or organization? Contact us today to see how our experts, assessments, or other services can help.