Guest Post by Christopher R. LaPata, MCR, Prosci CCP, Client Leader, BHDP Architecture, and Dustin A. Jackson, Ph.D., Associate Director of Transformation Advisory, Cognizant

With companies preparing to provide employees with a workplace re-immersion experience that drives engagement and is authentic to their corporate culture, it’s a good time to re-evaluate the workplace and understand what will motivate the returning workforce.

Workplace design, now more than ever, is at the heart of a successful re-entry into the office. Leveraging what experts know about human behavior and neuroscience, designers and workplace professionals can help ensure that employees feel that their subconscious, primal needs are being considered so that they can get to work and contribute rather than be bogged down with stress and anxiety.

Eight Primal Needs

Human beings are born with eight primal needs—needs that are programmed by DNA into the subconscious—and are essential for survival. These eight primal needs are acceptance, connectedness, contentment, freedom, gratification, guardianship, prestige, and survival.

Many of these needs have been described by the work done in neuromarketing (consumer neuroscience) during the last decade. These eight primal needs are managed by the subconscious brain. The subconscious brain manages 95 percent of people’s daily lives, decisions, and behaviors. Most people are not consciously aware of these eight needs and have no control over them. Rather, they serve as the subconscious reasons why people do what they do.

These eight primal needs subconsciously drive human actions with the end goal of seeking fulfillment and survival. An inspiring workplace design can tap into these primal needs and positively foster connectedness and acceptance. Design that does not keep the user as its primary focus can trigger a negative impression and possibly elevate discomfort or stress. A workplace can be designed to strengthen a person’s sense of safety and sense of belonging. In addition, space design that helps foster these feelings can reap rewards in productivity and satisfaction, as well as reducing turnover. That is why they are important considerations for companies when restaffing the workplace.

The Future of the Workplace

Significant deficits in meeting these primal needs in the workplace have accrued in the last 16 months. How individuals connect with others has gravely suffered. Viktor E. Frankl, the neurologist and Holocaust survivor, says that man can endure suffering “on the condition that his suffering has meaning.” Human beings can endure a lot, but without making these connections to the eight primal needs, they deprive themselves not only of purpose but also the ability to generate neurotransmitters like oxytocin, serotonin, and dopamine, normally generated by simple human interactions and an integral part of keeping people mentally balanced and happy based on the story they are telling themselves about their own lives.

Human brains are designed for stories. They have a mechanism called the Default Mode Network—a network comprised of different parts of the brain working together—and this mechanism is fed by stories, particularly the story of one’s own purpose. When people feel that their purpose is diminished, it affects their ability to display empathy, altruism, and reciprocity.

Today, there are three types of workers to consider in the new workplace. Workers who have lost their jobs and are now returning; workers who have been working remotely, and those who have been on the front lines as essential workers. When these workers come together again the concept of re-immersion will need to be addressed. Employees will be faced with the need to re-learn social norms, shaking hands and giving hugs instead of fist and elbow bumps. Forward-thinking companies will want to train their managers to be empathetic to the needs of the returning workforce.

One of the primary responsibilities for managers is to focus on reducing anxiety and identifying fear. The primary difference between anxiety and fear is that fear has a fear object. Anxiety is worry without knowing what one is worried about, whereas fear is worry about something specific. To be successful, managers should bring their staff into the conversation so that they can help identify these fear objects and transform their anxieties into fears that can then be addressed.

Editor’s Note: Part 2 of this article will be published on The Pulse on Aug. 6. This article was originally published in Work Design Magazine.

Christopher R. LaPata, MCR, Prosci CCP, is Client Leader at BHDP Architecture

Dustin A. Jackson, Ph.D., is Associate Director of Transformation Advisory at Cognizant