Study Shows the Importance of Leaders Satisfying Employee Psychological Needs

Summary of:

Van Tuin, L., Schaufeli, W., and Van Rhenen, W., “The Satisfaction and frustration of basic psychological needs in engaging leadership” (2020). Journal of Leadership Studies, 14(2), 6-23.

Background & Theory:

Different from other concepts of leadership, engaging leadership is conceptualized as leadership behavior that creates a work atmosphere in which people can contribute meaningfully, flourish, self-develop, and successfully perform through satisfying basic psychological needs. Based out of self-determination theory, the three basic psychological needs are autonomy, competence, and relatedness. This study focuses on the mediating role of basic psychological needs in the relationship between engaging leadership and its’ positive and negative outcomes.

Question(s):

Research was conducted by Lars Van Tuin et al. to answer the following question:

    1. What role do basic psychological needs play in engaged leadership and its effects in the workplace?

Methods:

Data were collected from 304 participants via questionnaires in Dutch organizations and their subsidiaries. The questionnaire included a number of scales validated by past research studies to measure engaging leadership, basic psychological needs, work motivation, and work engagement. Data were analyzed through partial least squares structural equation modeling, utilizing SmartPLS version 3.

Results:

Analyzing the data found that basic psychological needs satisfaction mediates the relationship between engaging leadership and positive outcomes. Additionally, basic psychological needs frustration (where the needs are not being met) partially mediated the relationship between engaging leadership and adverse outcomes.

Out of the three basic psychological needs, autonomy satisfaction positively mediated the relationship between engaging leadership and both autonomous motivation and (partially) work engagement. Autonomy satisfaction also decreased the risk of negative consequences from engaged leadership, such as amotivation and controlled mediation. This suggests that leaders who satisfy follower autonomy needs will likely increase positive outcomes while decreasing negative outcomes.

When not met, the basic psychological need of relatedness significantly generated adverse outcomes. The decrease in relatedness frustration led to decreased unfavorable outcomes but did not influence positive outcomes. Based on these findings, it is clearly indicated that autonomy and relatedness do not function the same as mediators in the relationship between engaging leadership and positive or negative outcomes. This suggests that one cannot treat each of the psychological needs as interchangeable and each must be addressed individually.

What We Can Learn:

Looking over this research, we can take away the following key insights:

  • Engaging leaders can positively influence their communities by satisfying basic psychological needs. Specifically, the role of autonomy satisfaction plays a substantial role for engaging leaders.
  • Autonomy satisfaction by engaging leaders is associated with increased autonomous motivation and work engagement, as well as decreased negative outcomes. This suggests that leaders should focus on the positive aspects of fulfilling follower needs instead of trying to diminish the frustrations of followers not having their needs met, as fulfilling autonomy needs will increase positive outcomes and decrease negative outcomes.

Final Takeaways

For Consultants: Workplace conflict and decreased employee engagement can be associated with a leader’s inability to fulfill employees’ basic psychological needs. An engaging leader who promotes employee autonomy, thereby fulfilling a need, will find increased employee engagement and motivation.

For Everyone: If you want to be a leader in your workplace, work on establishing systems and communication that helps satisfy the needs of those around you.