Needs theory in action: Pulling out your hair to pull all A’s

150 150 Ellen Ensher
  • 0

1 This guest post comes from Sage Miller, who is a student in my Managing People and Organizations class at LMU (this class is a combo HR/OB core course). I love the way Sage takes Needs theory and applies it to life on campus. Read on for a fresh perspective of needs theory!

Walking around a college campus, you can feel the stress radiating off each and every student. Everyone seems to have a huge test coming up that’s simply impossible to pass, a pressing 25-page paper, or a schedule that reeks of over-commitment. Why do students seem to whole-heatedly believe that pouring this much effort into school is worth the mere result (or hope) of a perfect grade?

What is it that motivates students to stay up for 24 hours straight cramming for a test, to skip meals to finish a paper, and to literally jump for joy when we see the golden “A” on return of a test?

Need’s theory states that one of the leading ways to motivate people is by providing them with everything you can to meet their needs: enter the classic college campus. One possible explanation for our seemingly endless motivation to succeed and to see the results we want is that we are in a highly resource-rich atmosphere. If needs theory holds true, a primitive example would have to be the college campus.

We are provided all that we need (and more) on-campus from almost all aspects of needs theory, especially one of the most critical: existence needs. As students we find our existence needs so satisfied that they almost over stimulated: with Olympic size pools we hardly have time to enjoy, 2 different dining halls, 5 coffee shops, more lion dollars than most students find the time to spend, and advisors at the ready to work out our schedules step by step and over-ride the challenges we face with the click of a button. This seems to hold true in all regards of needs theory. In terms of relatedness, students are constantly bombarded with invitations to join on-campus groups, service organizations, Greek life, to come to weekly events on and off campus, and to “get connected” with the school.

We find endless control and autonomy in the feeling of living on our own for the very first time, as our first true glimpse of a life where we dictate all of our actions and don’t have to turn to anyone for approval in our day-to-day decisions. Student’s esteem needs are met through regular feedback from teachers and reassuring appraisal for contributions in the classroom. Finally, we find meaning the sense that we have never felt that we are doing something so important in our entire lives up until this point. College functions as a prolonged, challenging finish line to the obstacle course of education that we have been pursuing our entire lives. Nothing has ever felt so critical, or brought us so close to freedom. Parents, professors, and employers are constantly reinforcing for us how important college is, and how “happy” we will be if we look back and know that we did everything we could to succeed and find success in our college career. In this way, as students we find great meaning in the work we are doing at our university.

Thus the college campus seems to be one of the most primitive examples of needs theory in action: when given a heightened sense of our needs being met, students are more motivated than ever and willing to push themselves to their limits to succeed. Hmmm, maybe that fifth coffee cart really is necessary? What motivates you?