Applying Self-Determination Theory (SDT) to boost employee well-being

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Self-Determination Theory

Employee well-being broadly can be understood as the overall quality of an employee’s experience, job satisfaction, and functioning at work. 

This well-being of employees is not limited to health management, but rather a combination of physical, emotional, psychological, and financial strength.

What is Self-Determination Theory?

Self-Determination Theory (SDT) is a motivational theory given by two young psychologists at the University of Rochester in 1985.

Both researchers were interested in factors that promote or undermine motivation, and after more than a decade of their research and experiments, they came to the following conclusion.

They found that there are some basic psychological needs that everybody has irrespective of thier work and field that help them to get their optimum motivation.

Those basic psychological needs are autonomy, competence and relatedness. 

When these three needs are supported and satisfied within a social context people and even employees experience more vitality, self‐motivation, and positive well‐being.

But how do these needs actually promote well-being?

Well, the answer is simple, these needs are internal needs that help to facilitate internal motivation rather than external motivation. 

Here, internal motivation is something that motivates the person from inside and they enjoy it while doing a task rather than simply do something because they are getting paid or there is a reward which is external motivation.

Obviously, people or here employees can be motivated externally( by money, or a desire for social approval), but Deci and Ryan strongly believed that this type of controlled motivation can actually tarnish a person’s or employee’s feelings about the worth of the project and undermine intrinsic motivation.

The next big question is how can work on these needs to promote employee well-being?

Self-Determination Theory For Work Motivation

 Let’s start with understanding these needs with a few strategies by which we can satisfy that need to increase employee well-being: 

1. Relatedness: Relatedness refers to an individual or employee’s need to experience personal relationships and a sense of belonging to social groups or work groups.

What makes one employee feel that they belong at a workplace can be different from their colleagues depending upon which group they are from and how they interact with others.

To capatalize on this need to increase employee’s well-being SDT suggest following:

  • One powerful way to build this relatedness at the workplace is by sharing common purpose, values and goals with the help of technique called ‘How might we’ sessions.

In ‘How might we’ sessions, employees sit together and share stories of how they have felt when their own or someone’s behavior has been aligned with (or not aligned with) company values. 

Focusing on such experiences and sharing also builds empathy as well as these sharing of feelings does solidify the feeling of belonging.

  • You can also promote the development of teams by encouraging everyone in the organization to give feedback on how to improve the group dynamics. 
  • Remember to build integration of employees at work through simultaneously celebrating victories and mourning losses together as well as outings, team lunches and birthday parties.

2. Autonomy: This can be simply understood by how much freedom the employee has to decide the context of work as well as the freedom of how to do it. 

SDT suggests that being autonomous does not actually mean being independent, but It simply means having a sense of freedom when completing tasks or projects. 

To capatalize on this need to increase employee’s well-being SDT suggest following:

  • Self-Determination Theory (SDT) stresses the role of mindfulness in self‐regulation and wellness.

By building mindfulness employees build better autonomous decisions because they have clarity about their surroundings and work. Hence, build mindfulness of the employees through a simple process of first, identifying a mindfulness trainer within an organization or hiring an expert. Secondly, start a lunchtime or before-work mindfulness program to teach mindfulness to employees. And at last, help employees to become mindfulness facilitators to improve their skills and become experts for the organization. 

  • Advising managers to demonstrate trust and avoid micro-managing again become crucial because autonomy is facilitated by reflective awareness. 

  • Self-Determination Theory (SDT) also stresses the role of providing freedom to employees to not only choose the task but also setting deadlines themselves for their tasks. 

Here, giving too much freedom can also prove to be counterproductive to the success of the initiative.

To counter this, leaders and managers should support employees throughout the process of employees learning how they can optimize Self-Determination Theory for their well-being.  

3.Competence: Competence refers to the desire of the employee that wants them to be in control of their environment as well as the outcome of the task. 

To improve employee’s competence: 

  • Ensure that everyone is placed in the correct role and is sufficiently trained.

To do this, First, try to assess how competent they feel about their role and what they want to improve. Then, try to build a plan for their training or role readjustment that allows them to feel more competent.

  • Provide employees with enough opportunities to express their skills and strengths. Remember, trust plays a major role here so it’s key to build trust within the competency of your employees.

  • Create a liquid workforce to move employees from traditional roles that restrict their work to roles that engage them to work with other departments closely.

How To Implement Self-Determination Theory in The Workplace To Build The Employee Well-Being Plan?

Building your own action plan to enhance well-being, even increases the effectiveness you might get over the use of previously learned strategies. 

  1. First, understand and evaluate the current well-being of the employees to identify the major needs you need to work on. 

This can be made possible by gathering information from employees through the means of surveys, questionnaires, and direct communication.

You can use the following specific questions that helps to see which psychological need employees need to satisfy most: 

  •  How well do the systems and processes support you in doing your job effectively? (Competence)
  • How much do you think your opinions are valued by co-workers? (Relatedness)
  • How much freedom of working methods does your role provide? (Autonomy)
  • You can also use Employee well-being questionnaires and scales such as Short Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale to collect this information.

  1. Choose the most effective plan to work on optimizing those needs:

For this purpose, firstly try to come up with a pool of strategies that are probably best for your organization.

Secondly, compare those strategies on the basis of which one of them is most congruent with the values of your organization. 

Thirdly, communicate these ideas to see how employees react to them in discussions.

At last, analyze their feedback and then choose the most effective techniques.

  1. Follow up: 

Follow up helps to not only help to evaluate how effective the strategies were but also helps to create room for further improvement.

It also opens a feedback channel that increases the feeling of belongingness within employees.

Employees’ well-being signifies the overall quality of an employee’s experience and functioning at work. In this blog, we tried to understand this well-being with the context of SDT (Self-Determination Theory) of motivation that helps to understand how we can boost employee well-being by focusing on three crucial needs including, autonomy, competence, and relatedness. It’s also important for organizations to make their process of improving well-being that matches with their values and goals. 

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