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New year, same needs

Updated: Jan 20, 2023

James and I did our 5th annual trip up to Northland for summer break. This year we went to Baylys Beach and brought in the New Year with a bonfire on the beach, under the stars, reflecting on our 2022.

Enjoying our last sunset of 2022 at Baylys Beach

New Year's is full of renewed excitement about new resolutions. Maybe you set resolutions or choose a word of the year to guide your habits. (In 2020, Hilary, Dinah and I chose detach, flexible, and consistency, respectively).

A few different times throughout the night James and I reflected on how New Year's is a big celebration for people, but everything around us mostly stays the same. The tides still ebb and flow, the sun goes down and rises. But it's just in a new year and that always gets people excited to start new things.*

*If you haven't already, check out Dinah's webinar and notes on how to start something new.

Let's use this new year's motivation to refocus on what really matters at work - the people. If the pandemic has done anything, it's reminded us of a forgotten truth at work: it's people that are the most important. Our human needs aren’t driven by a calendar year – but in many ways our habits can be.

This year, with all the newness happening, let’s continue to look after people’s basic needs at work.

Meet people's needs at work

A few months ago, we looked at how people's threat responses (fight, flight, freeze, flock, feign, fawn) show up at work and actions you can take when you notice these behaviours. Beyond avoiding threats, workplaces should actively look at ways to make sure they are meeting their people's needs.

In this blog we'll break down three basic needs we all have and actions we can take to meet these needs for ourselves and others at work.

  1. Be healthy and well

  2. Connect with others

  3. Add value and feel valued *clearly not an exhaustive list by any means

This type of reflection is what it truly means to take a human-centric approach to how we work.

It's a new year. Let's take a human approach and think about how needs are met or threatened:

  • in our workplaces. Think about your work environment. Does your environment meet or threaten these needs, and is the environment energy-giving or energy-draining?

  • as workers. Understand what rewards /threatens your own needs at work and actively find ways to meet these needs.

  • as teammates. Think about how you meet or threaten your teammates' personal needs, and think of ways you can bring energy to others you work with.

  • as service providers. Think about your customers. How do your processes, policies and products meet the needs of your customers (both internal and external)?

1. We need to be healthy and well.

"You only have one body!" my dad earnestly reminds me, when I tell him I'm planning another tattoo. He's right (but not as a reason not to get tattoos). Our bodies are our most important asset. And as we know all too well, our mind and bodies are interconnected.

Sir Mason Durie created the Te Whare Tapa Whā model in 1982 to highlight all the elements help (or hinder) our wellbeing. He recognised that our health is like a whare (house) and there are multiple, interconnected pillars that hold the roof (our well-being) upright and strong.

These pillars are:

  • Taha tinana | Physical health: healthy diet, exercise, sleep, and environment

  • Taha wairua | Spiritual health: a sense of purpose and meaning

  • Taha whānau | Family health: family, friends and support networks connected

  • Taha hinengaro | Mental health: thoughts, feelings and emotions and your ability to communicate with yourselves and others about them

Because these pillars are all interconnected, they all need to be strong. We see this interconnection play out all the time. You hear some bad news - and your stomach drops. You exercise and find your bandwidth and focus increases. You don't get enough sleep and you find yourself more irritable. You get in a fight with a friend and you lose your appetite.

If our health and well-being are fundamental to our success, it's probably worth asking, why are our office spaces (and schools) are designed the way they are?

In most office spaces, people are meant to be seated, stationary and focused over a small screen illuminated with artificial light. Find me one doctor who recommends this to spend 1/3 of your days in this environment. And yet for many people - that's a reality.

So, given that our office design is not the healthiest, we need to be deliberate about building our physical well-being into our work days.

How can we enrich our health and wellbeing at work?

  • Take frequent breaks. Check out more actions from my webinar notes on breaks here!

  • Promote flexible work arrangements. Help people be able to include what's important for their health, into their work day, not around it.

  • Move! At least once an hour, stand up and get your blood pumping. Fill up your tea, walk the stairs if you can, do seated ergonomic stretches at your desk.

  • Go outside at least twice each work day. The fresh air does wonders for our bodies, minds and moods.

  • Have walking 1:1’s. There are so many benefits to this beyond the fresh air, sunshine and movement. People are less tense when they are walking beside someone as opposed to sitting across the table from someone. Try it - take advantage of the nice weather.

  • Talk to people in your team about what they need and what they do to be healthy and well. Find out if there’s any support or help you can give – or join them (if they want you to!)

2. We need to connect with others.

We're social animals and we need connection with others.

How we connect with others has rapidly changed in the past few decades. Live connections used to mean in person, but that's not the case anymore.

These new ways of working are great at promoting flexibility - but hybrid environments can make connections between people at work challenging as well. And one of the reasons is the law of propinquity.

Hilary reflected on this in her webinar, "How to connect with people: a look at social chemistry."

Propinquity is the physical or psychological proximity between people. The law of propinquity says the chances of two people communicating with each other is inversely proportional to the physical distance between them. Put simply, we connect overwhelmingly with people with whom we are in close physical contact. In studies of two companies over half of all interactions took place between employees sitting next to each other. Let’s add the mere exposure effect to this. Psychologist, Robert Zajonc, developed this idea and it’s simple. The more you are exposed to people, the more you like them. So where does this leave open-plan offices? Do you get more interactions and innovation? Probably not. Because for trusted relationships to develop we need repeated interactions. If you want to meet up with more people more regularly, sit by the office exit, bathroom or kitchen.

Of course you can absolutely build connection, trust and psychological safety with people you’ve never met in person. Hybrid and remote teams do this all the time. But it requires a lot more deliberate and intentional action to go along with it.

Whether you're working in the office, out of the office or a mixture of in-between, make sure you're putting a focus on connections in 2023.

How can we find connection at work?

Connect with your team

  • Do team ice-breakers. It doesn't matter if you think they're corny - in fact that's the part of the point. Group sharing (and vulnerability) is fundamental to connecting with others. Here are five suggestions from Dinah to get you started.

  • Recognise people's strengths. Find ways to use those in how you work with that person.

  • Have 1:1's. And this is not just operational 1:1's about the work you're doing. You should also be doing coaching and future focused 1:1's regularly.

Connect to your work

Connect to your customers

  • Recognise the impact your work has on others. What value and benefit does your work add? To whom? How do you complete your work to bring out the biggest value for your customers, stakeholders and teammates?

  • Complete a customer experience exercise. Who are your customers/stakeholders? When do you engage with them? Through what mediums? What works well? What sticking points or challenges do they have? How do you know how they find working with you? What would make it easier for them? How do you affect their health and wellbeing? (back to need #1!)

3. We need add value and feel valued.

We all have a need for status - to be recognised by others and feel valuable. Celebrating successes and people's contributions isn't a nice-to-have, it's a need to have.

How people want to be recognised for their work varies. Think about the different appreciation languages that show up at work. Do you speak everyone's appreciation languages?

Something everyone needs is a line of sight between themselves and the wider organisation. There's a famous story which illustrates this: The janitor who put a man on the moon. You may have heard this story. In 1962, US President John F. Kennedy visited NASA. During the tour of the space centre, he began talking to one of the janitors. When he asked the janitor what his role was, the janitor replied “I’m helping put a man on the moon!"


The janitor realised something every employee should – that their role is connected to the larger organisational goal. This is called a line of sight, and it’s vital for creating stability and hope in your organisation.

Actions to help people feel valued and valuable:

  • Celebrate achievements and successes at work. Highlight how and what people contributed. Appreciation languages vary amongst people; take a look at the different ways you can show appreciation at work.

  • Know your strengths and the strengths of your teammates. Use people's strengths to help the team perform.

  • Create a strong line of sight. How?


  • Know your organisational vision and mission. And be familiar with your strategy to get there.

  • Create a team mission statement. Identify a common goal that everyone on the team can rally behind.

    • Note: Put a human face/emotion behind your mission. What's the benefit to your customers or stakeholders. Why does it matter?

  • Create workflows. Know the work process from start to end. Everyone should be able to identify where your work is coming from, how your team adds value and where it goes after you finish with it.

  • Remove yourself from the equation. What would happen if no one was doing your role? What loss would there be to the organisation and to the customer?

2023: A year of human centred workplaces

The whole point of this blog comes down to encouraging people at work to focus on...well...the people at work. We all have basic physical, social, emotional, and spiritual needs. These shouldn't be forgotten, just because we're at work. Think about all the other needs we have (like autonomy and fairness) and do the same three-part reflection (solo or as a team):

  1. What is the human need?

  2. How is it rewarded or threatened at work?

  3. What actions can we take to increase the rewards and decrease the threats?

There's a beautiful Māori saying that sums this up the energy we hope all workplaces have brought into 2023:

He aha te mea nui o te ao? He tāngata! He tāngata! He tāngata!
What is the most important thing in the world? It is the people. It is the people. It is the people.


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