North Wales Management School - Wrexham University

Workplace psychology: understanding the needs, goals and motivations of employees

Posted on: June 29, 2023
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There are universal questions that business leaders and executives are interested in finding the answers to: how do I get the most out of my team members? Are my employees satisfied? How will my workforce react to change and transition?

Evidently, the most effective managers possess a keen understanding of human behaviour. We can all bring to mind bosses who inspired and motivated us, created a positive team culture where our needs were met, and supported us to grow and develop. Needless to say, it’s likely we can all bring to mind the opposite – and how it made us feel.

It’s official: happy workers are better workers. Increasingly, modern workplaces understand the logic of adapting business practices, management styles and environments in order to boost employee satisfaction and wellbeing. But why not go deeper – and reap further benefits – with a greater level of psychological and human behavioural insight?

What is workplace psychology?

Workplace psychology refers to the science of human behaviour as it relates to work. It’s also referred to as occupational psychology, or industrial and organisational psychology (I/O psychology). Specifically, it focuses on identifying the behavioural principles of individuals, groups and organisations, and understanding how the insights derived from these principles can be applied to problem-solving ventures and used to shape organisational behaviour.

Ultimately, it’s concerned with influencing, changing and enhancing social psychology and behaviour in order to benefit employees and businesses alike – resulting in a win-win scenario. Generally speaking, this is achieved by improving both the quality of life and the working conditions of team members in order to increase performance, productivity and efficiency.

Why is organisational psychology important?

For business leaders who are considering whether or not they need a workplace psychologist, it’s worth examining the numerous business benefits that a focus on organisational psychology can bring. Investing in employee mental health and wellbeing pays figurative, and literal, dividends.

Greater employee satisfaction can lead to:

  • increased productivity, motivation and job satisfaction
  • renewed interest in professional development and progression
  • greater retention and attraction of top talent
  • fewer instances of work-related ill physical and mental health – such as stress, burnout, anxiety and depression – and absenteeism
  • higher quality work output
  • increased profitability
  • boosted brand image.

The cost of getting it wrong is both readily apparent and measurable. HR Cloud’s employee engagement statistics report that:

  • only 36% of employees feel engaged with their places of work
  • highly engaged workforces increase profitability by 21%
  • employee disengagement costs the United States economy $450-550 billion dollars each year
  • companies with thriving corporate cultures achieve over 4x-higher revenue growth
  • 33% of employees leave workplaces due to boredom and lack of challenge – only 29% are satisfied with advancement opportunities.

To this end, organisational psychology must identify the needs, goals and motivations of employees, and then design and implement changes to meet these drivers. After all, it’s bad business practice not to.

What is the role of a workplace psychologist?

Many modern organisations regard in-house psychologists as critical members of their human resources functions.

Job and career specialists, Prospects, define the role of a workplace psychologist – more commonly referred to as an occupational psychologist – as one that ‘focuses on how people behave at work in order to increase their productivity, job satisfaction and the overall effectiveness of an organisation or business.’ They often serve as intermediaries between senior leaders and managers and the wider workforce. As such, they must be skilled in balancing and respecting the motivations, aims and perspectives of both parties.

An organisational psychologist’s work can be wide-ranging, spanning business needs such as:

  • counselling, mentoring, coaching and personal development
  • supporting and informing strategic decision-making
  • redesigning jobs and work environments
  • plugging communication gaps
  • planning organisational development and change
  • recruitment and selection, from reviewing job descriptions to conducting psychometric assessments
  • training, learning and continuing professional development (CPD)
  • performance appraisals and reviews
  • employee relations and motivation.

Regardless of the size of the business, psychologists work hard – and utilise highly developed interpersonal skills and understanding – to ensure that each individual employee feels valued and supported.

In order to pursue a career as an occupational psychologist, you’ll need to satisfy conditions such as appropriate British Psychology Society (BPS)-accredited qualifications and training, sufficient work experience, as well as a variety of other entry requirements.

How can workplaces be optimised for employee engagement and satisfaction?

Any workplace changes should be backed by data and led by psychological insights into the core aspects of work that employees struggle with. There is no point spending time, money and labour developing and implementing strategies that do not meaningfully address your team’s issues.

Let’s take Google as an example, a global organisation well known for the holistic, nurturing and positive environments it provides for employees. As well as exclusive perks such as chef-prepared meals, free health checks, on-site physicians, subsidised massages, gym membership, nap pods, free haircuts and recreation activities, Google offers flexibility of working to help employees achieve better work-life balance and autonomy, an extensive career development programme, diverse organisational culture, strong leadership which prioritises innovation and free thinking, and fun, inclusive work environments, among many other initiatives.

Erudit, specialists in data-driven employee engagement solutions, offer further interventions to boost employee satisfaction.

  • Group activities, particularly in organisations which lack shared culture and cross-collaboration, help to strengthen working relationships between employees as well as build bridges between the company and its workforce.
  • Training programmes, from leadership to negotiation to specialist skill development – available to employees across the organisation – demonstrate a commitment to investing in, and listening to, employees, while also enabling the business to benefit from new skills and expertise.
  • Promotion programmes, which recognise and reward hard work and effort, help employees to think long-term, contribute to organisational success, and provide much-desired security and stability.

Use psychological understanding to develop solutions for the modern workplace

Could greater awareness of human behaviour and motivation improve your human resource management?

Gain the skills to support colleagues and team members, direct effective decision-making, and transform wider workplace culture with North Wales Management School’s online MSc Psychology programme.

You’ll develop the specialist expertise and skills needed to understand human behaviour on a deeper level, together with tools to apply this knowledge in a broad range of professional settings. Your flexible, part-time studies will explore different psychological theories and span topics including forensic psychology, health psychology, educational psychology, clinical psychology, emerging technologies, neuroscience, psychological assessments, and more.