Let’s start with a test. How would you react if your superior came up to you and said:
“I have looked at your results and I have noticed that you make quite a few mistakes. I propose you ask one of your colleagues to supervise you for a week. In two weeks time I will check whether there is any improvement.”
Would you be offended and would you suggest that your supervisor should do the job himself since he seems to know best? Or would you be happy with the clear feedback you are given, and would you continue your work feeling extra motivated? If the latter reaction applies to you, than you probably have a high level of Personal Need for Structure (PNS).
Structure and order are basic needs in people. Organizational psychologist Marjette Slijkhuis knows all about this, as she has recently defended her dissertation on the subject of PNS. “People high in PNS need predictability in their lives,” she says, “they prefer an orderly existence, show little flexibility and their living environment is structured.” The need for structure, among other things, determines how one reacts to certain situations. In order to fulfil their need for structure, people high in PNS tend to use stereotypes and simple structures. Obviously, this also affects work.
With the introduction of the so-called ‘New Way of Working’ – or flexible work – it is suggested that all parties involved will benefit from this method and that employees will appreciate the newly gained freedom that flexible work offers them.
“My research suggests otherwise, for it shows that this method is not for everyone. Especially not for people high in PNS. They neither get extra motivated by this freedom, nor does it increase their level of creativity.”
Being high in PNS is not age-related. Slijkhuis: “It is often thought that specifically the younger generation prefers freedom and flexibility, yet my research shows that a large part of this group also has a tendency towards need for structure. So in this, the younger generation does not differ from other generations.”
As we have seen, a high level of PNS influences the employee’s performance and motivation. Slijkhuis: “This group of people often has a high level of work motivation, which flourishes in well-structured organizations with clear rules and values.” Management style – or the way in which a superior gives feedback – is vital to their sense of well-being. They especially benefit from close monitoring, the style described in the test at the beginning of this article. “It gives them a clear perspective on what is expected from them; circumstances employees high in PNS thrive under.”
It is now up to managers to accept the challenge to determine which of their employees benefit from this approach, presenting them with the old dilemma of how one goes about managing a diverse group of people. For it might be a new way of working, the challenges are the same!
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