We All Need Variety at Work
World-renowned speaker, writer, and coach Tony Robbins explains the six human needs acting as a driving force behind what we do and how we live our lives. What seems at first glance like a simple list of needs is actually a powerful and useful tool that can help us understand the complexity of human behavior, even when it seems illogical. One need Tony highlights is the need for variety or uncertainty. This need is in all of us, though it exits in different degrees in different people. The need for variety exists in opposition to our need for safety, security, and certainty — also a universal need.
In coaching, training, and facilitation, I’ve had the chance to teach and share this useful concept of six human needs with hundreds of people. I’ve seen relief, acceptance, momentum, and joy increase as people play with and try out ways to meet their own needs and ways to honor and guide others from the human-needs perspective.
Traditionally, the need for variety at work has been completely squashed. Fortunately, as innovation in technology increases, we are also starting to pay attention to how we work together and to appreciate innovative ways of working — we are all opening our minds to doing things differently. One way we can change the status quo is to welcome the human need for variety into the workplace.
Some people have a high need for variety. They:
- Are creative and expressive
- Can give new insights on complex problems
- Can see the big picture
- Are good at understanding how even seemingly unrelated things are connected
- Can be funny and charming
- Can be impulsive
- Either provide pure innovation or drive it with their enthusiasm and motivation
- Sometimes neglect, deny, or forget about their need for security and certainty
- Have lots of interesting experiences and stories to share
- Are valuable participants in brainstorming meetings
All people need some variety in life and at work. People who are not getting their healthy need for variety met:
- Resist routine activities (possibly chronically late on monthly reports, for example)
- Get bored and lose motivation
- Can feel hopeless
- Can enter a slump in terms of creativity
- Spend time daydreaming and fantasizing
- May take on an additional work project outside of their regular job or start their own business ‘on the side’
Some people have a high need for certainty and security. These are very dependable and consistent colleagues and just like those with a high need for variety, can be a real asset to any team. These folks; however, are at risk for denying their need for variety and for avoiding it as much as possible. People who need more certainty than most and who ignore the human need for variety:
- Are ill-prepared for unpleasant surprises in life (job loss, illness, death of a loved one)
- Resist neutral or positive changes at work including reorganization processes or upgrades in technology
- Can become isolated as they fear interaction with those who are different or unknown
- Can become rigid in both ideas and ways of doing things
- Respond well to both patience and reassurance when it comes to any change
Teams who become too insular and forget to honor the need for variety:
- Miss out on the benefits of diversity
- Lag behind the competition
- Are slow to innovate themselves
- Might not keep up with research and innovations in best practices, procedures, and systems that can support their work
- Can lose sight of changing market needs
Teams who allow for some variety and diversity as well as have a few individual members who need a lot of variety:
- Are proven by research to be more productive (*HBR reference below)
- Handle the inevitable shifts and changes in economic climates
- Are well-prepared for the effects of political and environmental disasters
- Are market-responsive
- Spend more time talking with each other, and spend more time talking about ideas
- Tend to honor each member’s creativity, and therefore encourage all to be creative
So how does this apply to you at work? What can you do with this understanding?
You can make sure the need for variety is accepted — by accepting your own need for variety first. You can be more flexible with your colleagues who need a lot of variety by remembering the value they bring to your team and company. As a manager, you can adapt expectations for people who need a lot of variety — give them interesting challenges and avoid weighing them down with too many repetitive tasks. You can also take a look at any team you are a part of or a team you manage and make sure there is some variety built into the team itself.
If there is a lot of consistency and not a lot of variety represented on your team, it may be time to shake things up in order to wake up creativity and flexibility. Why not plan a retreat? An out-of-the-ordinary experience might be just what everyone needs. Another way to introduce some variety is to bring in an outside consultant for brainstorming, problem-solving, and innovation sessions with the team. Welcoming an intern or new hire by allowing team members to share their expertise in a group setting is also a way to highlight the unique skills and ideas of each member.
If you are in a rut at work and personally need more variety, it’s time to ask your employer for a new challenge, some professional development, or for a mentor. If there is no way to learn and grow in your current role — look for a course to take or a new activity outside of the office — and maybe, it’s time to start looking for a new professional role too. In the short term — take a weekend trip to a place you have never been before, go to an event where you can meet some new people, try a new recipe, or get a haircut! Variety is the spice of life!
For an overview of the six human needs:
Tony Robbins: 6 Basic Needs That Make Us Tick
For a great read about productive, successful teams:
Harvard Business Review
For coaching, consulting, creative communications and facilitation — and a little more variety where you work:
Denise Nickerson is a writer, speaker, coach, and creative consultant based in Geneva, Switzerland who works with international people, travels, studies, and parents her lively daughters to meet her need for variety every day.