Could insecurity literally be holding back your career?

 When we think about what motivates us in the workplace, the factors which first spring to mind may be money and status, or achieving one’s own maximum potential. These goals are part of our natural desire to feel esteemed through our performance in challenging and meaningful work. However, to maximise our chances of satisfying these desires and goals, there are more basic needs we must take into account. Failure to fulfil these more basic goals may prevent us from focusing on more sophisticated ambitions, such as career success, and are, therefore, a continual priority.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

maslowIn his paper A Theory of Human Motivation, American psychologist Abraham Maslow outlined these goals in what we know today as Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. He theorised that the foundations of our motivation lay in first meeting physiological needs (food and shelter), safety needs (security and protection) and social needs (supportive relationships). Only once we have achieved a state where all these needs are satisfied can we focus on personal development and workplace autonomy.

Maslow’s theory, drawn up in 1943, is still used in business training today. Managers and employees have a clearer understanding of how to inspire motivation in themselves and their teams. One need which can often be overlooked is safety. Unlike physiological needs, which we would immediately be aware of lacking, safety and security needs are often compromised, and can have profound effects on our personal achievement without us realising.

The strain of poor home security on mental health

Practically every element of our lives is dependent on security, from our perceptions of personal safety at home, to financial security and insurance. Arguably the most important form of security is the sanctuary of our own homes; if this environment is made to feel unsafe, then the psychological impact can be severe.

Property security specialists Banham have observed how feeling unsafe at home can evolve into an unidentified cause of mental upset.

“Not all feelings of anxiety or depression have instantly identifiable triggers. For residents living in particularly disruptive or high crime areas, they can build up over a long period of time. Concerns such as the fear of a break-in, or vandalism to the home, can start to eat away at a person’s mental health.”

Routinely compromised or neglected security can evoke tension and anxiety, which interfere with satisfying our basic needs. A study by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) found that high levels of anxiety disrupt sleep (a basic physiological need which is crucial to good mental health), damaging 42% of female participants’ ability to focus the following day. This could have a significant impact on work performance and motivation.

Feeling unsafe can also infringe on our social relationships. While depression, a possible symptom of mental or psychical insecurity, is known to cause withdrawal, this behaviour is also in keeping with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Under Maslow’s theory, we cannot move forward and satisfy our ‘belongingness’ needs or the needs higher up pyramid, until we have met our security requirements.

Regaining career motivation and success through feelings of safety

Our definition of success and our chief motivation for achieving it is changing, becoming less about wealth and more about personal goals. As PWC’s recent study Millennials at Work has shown, the newest generation of workers (aged 18-35) are more interested in ‘opportunities for career progression’ and ‘opportunity for personal development’ than money.

This drive for realising one’s own potential and finding a sense of autonomy and purpose is the highest point of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. In order to reach a state where these goals are in reach, our home and work environments must be sufficiently safe. A study on The Academic Consequences of Feeling Unsafe at School showed how children’s test results were negatively affected by the perception of risk. We can, therefore, assume the same would be true for adults performance in an unsafe work environment.

There are a number of straightforward measures individuals can take to improve their perceptions of personal safety. The presence of CCTV, for instance has been proved to make people feel safer.

Specific safety requirements and perceptions of personal safety will vary hugely, but taking time to evaluate your own needs will help you achieve more advanced goals, such as confidence and career fulfilment.

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