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5 Reasons Why Affiliation Motivation Is Important

“You are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with.”

Have you heard of this quote before? Social behavior is contagious. Maybe you want to believe you have your own will and you’re completely independent of the people around you, but the truth is that we are human beings, and we want to belong. It’s called affiliation motivation. It’s the urge to have personal relationships with other people and to feel like you belong to a group or community.

Even though it’s hard to admit when our ego gets in the way, we want to be liked, and we’ll often go along with whatever the group is doing just for that feeling of belonging. It’s often not a conscious thing. We don’t actively think: “I will do what they do because I want them to like me.” No, it’s our subconscious need for affiliation that drives us to automatically copy the behavior of the people around us.

The “Three Needs Theory”

David McClelland expounds on this subconscious need for affiliation in his “Three Needs Theory,” especially in the context of a workplace. Here, he categorizes these needs into three:[1]

  1. The need for achievement
  2. The need for affiliation
  3. The need for power

You might think it’s obvious that we want to achieve our goals in life and track our progress, that we want to feel somewhat powerful like we have things under control, and that we enjoy winning. But it’s the need for affiliation that happens most subconsciously.

  • Did you ever cross your arms during a conversation with your friend, only to realize he’s sitting with his arms crossed as well? Whoops, affiliation motivation.
  • Did you ever just follow the crowd when trying to find the exit of a building but you had no clue where you were going? Whoops, affiliation motivation.
  • Did you ever decide to be kind to someone who belongs to the team while you actually couldn’t stand this person? Whoops, affiliation motivation.

We all feel these three types of needs, but one might be stronger for you than the others.

Do You Have a Strong Need for Affiliation?

You have a high motivation for affiliation if you recognize yourself in the majority of these statements:

  • You love working in groups.
  • You seem to easily blend in.
  • People tend to like you from the start.
  • You prefer collaborating instead of competing.
  • You avoid high-risk situations and uncertainty.
  • You like spending time socializing and networking.
  • You might feel a strong desire to be liked and loved.

Are you feeling like this is a bad thing? Like you want to be more independent and unaffected by others? Let me show you five reasons why affiliation motivation is actually important. We wouldn’t be able to survive as a society without this need for affiliation. Read on to learn why.

5 Reasons Why Affiliation Motivation Is Important

Here are the five reasons why affiliation motivation is important and how it actually benefits you.

1. Affiliation Motivation Is Necessary for Teamwork

When you have a high need for affiliation, you will automatically fit well into any group setting. You’ll be more adaptive, and you won’t try to stand out, be the leader, or be different. People will call you ‘the glue’ of the group because you think of everyone’s good. Being the middle man comes naturally to you as you know how to take everyone’s needs and wants into account and make sure everyone’s getting along well.

We all want to feel involved in some way, to feel part of a community, and to feel like we get our team’s approval. We are social creatures, after all. So, whether your need for affiliation is high or low, you will find it important to feel like you bring value to a group.

If you are higher in the other needs, don’t worry. Every group needs a leader who has a higher need for power to take the group in the right direction. If your need for achievement is the highest, you will be the team player who encourages everyone to create an efficient plan to reach the group’s goals and measure the group’s achievements.

2. You Develop a Higher Social Intelligence

Bonding with others and maintaining good relationships requires a higher level of social intelligence. You create this ability to almost feel what others are thinking and adapt to them. People with a high need for affiliation often have a more advanced level of empathy. You just know how to talk to people and make them happy. And more importantly, apart from easily making new contacts, you know how to sustain them.

If your need for affiliation is high, you’ll feel very good at networking events. You’ll also be the perfect employee for jobs in customer service or any other job with a high level of social interaction. People naturally feel good around you. You know how to maintain a healthy relationship.

If your need for power is higher, people will tend to look up to you, respect you, and see you as their leader. You will naturally act more from a place of authority. If you have a high need for achievement, people will see you more as the competitive person of the group, which can negatively influence the feeling of connectedness.

3. Affiliation Can Affect Your Healthy Habits

Research shows that increasing similarity between spouses in their health behaviors after marriage positively affects their marital satisfaction.[2] The reason both spouses are happier when they copy each other’s healthy habits is that they’re satisfying each other’s affiliation needs.

The same counts for your group of friends, your colleagues, family members, or roommates. If your friend is a heavy drinker, you’re more likely to increase your intake of alcohol as well. Luckily, the opposite is also true. If you’re eating healthy and taking good care of yourself, you’ll see you will positively influence the people who are close to you.

Our need for affiliation can be so big that we are willing to adopt unhealthy behavior just to belong to a group, even when we know it’s not good for us. Our subconscious mind and our instinctual drive to belong are bigger than our conscious thought process.

Whether you have a very strong need for affiliation or not, this advice counts for everyone: Choose wisely who you spend your time with.

4. Bonding With Others Is a Natural Remedy Against Anxiety

During stressful situations, our need for affiliation increases. Think of the biggest world events and how people all of the sudden take initiative to come together, create a new hashtag, gather donations, and support one another.

When stress is high, we tend to put our differences aside and look for that feeling of unity. We come together and find security with one another. Anxiety decreases when you feel connected to others, knowing they are going through the same situation, feeling the same fears, or understand what you’re going through.

When you connect to a group, you somehow forget about the racing thoughts and fears rushing through your head because you’re part of a greater whole. At that moment, you are the group, not just your own being.

5. Affiliation Makes Us Want to Give Back

It’s the connection and trust we feel towards others that makes us feel like we want to give back whenever they do something nice for us. This sense of reciprocity builds more trust, confidence, and fairness in the relationship, and it’s deeply ingrained in our natural reactions.

Without our need for affiliation, we wouldn’t enjoy it so much when others do something nice for us, and vice versa, we wouldn’t feel that instant urge to give back and be liked and loved by others. Giving makes us happy because we know we’ll be accepted, appreciated, and loved by the other person.

Start to Fulfill Your Need for Affiliation!

Now that you understand that affiliation motivation isn’t just about fitting into the group or wanting to be liked by others but about teamwork, social intelligence, physical health, anxiety, and reciprocity, how can you actively fulfill your need for affiliation?

Here are eight quick tips you can start implementing today!

  1. Do something nice for someone.
  2. Choose wisely who you spend your time with.
  3. Dare to share your fears with others. They might feel the same way!
  4. Join a community that has the same interest like a book club, a language exchange, a hiking club, etc.
  5. Play a game that involves teamwork with your best friends like a treasure hunt!
  6. Find a healthy buddy and team up to change your eating habits, or start exercising together, or start a meditation course.
  7. Tell your friends and family why you appreciate them. Try to get comfortable with mentioning your appreciation more often.
  8. Give hugs!

Follow these tips and start to fulfill your need for affiliation!


MindTools: McClelland’s Human Motivation Theory
ResearchGate: Couple Similarity and Marital Satisfaction: Are Similar Spouses Happier?

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Motivation in the workplace is a big topic, more so right now due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the onset of the “new normal” working environment. Motivation is featured highly on every leader’s agenda as the quick transition to working from home (WFH) took place, coupled with the mass adoption of digital forms of communication as the main point of connection.

There has been a shifting landscape as the tectonic plates of aspiration, value, and meaning collide with what motivates individuals and teams in the workplace.

In this article, I will talk about how to improve individual employee motivation and how to improve team motivation, as what motivates a team to high performance can differ from that of an employee.

Now, let’s dive into what’s really going on. Here are three powerful ways to improve employee motivation post-pandemic.

1. Give Employees Autonomy

I think a large majority of companies have missed a golden opportunity to build trust during the pandemic and subsequent new normal era. Instead, they chose to focus on measuring productivity and quantifying efficiency over autonomy and trust. As a result, they inadvertently squandered the opportunity that was in front of them.

At the same time, for the employee, the veil has been lifted, the curtain pulled back, and the magic has worn off. However you want to look at it, the shift from 9 to 5 office culture to WFH has left many employees wondering why—why did I tolerate the long commute to the office? We’re all those in-person meetings necessary?

Work-life in the 21st Century has been put under the microscope and scrutinized because of a virus. employees are often packed like sardines into hot and sweaty train carriages or sitting motionless in rush hour traffic for hours on end, not to mention the pressure of carefully planning the day’s outfit all just to be seen working at the desk and readily available to anyone who wants to stop by for a disruptive but well-meaning natter.

While the move to WFH has provided some additional benefits, such as more time with family, a more flexible working location, no commute, and casual dress, it has also caused some issues to show up.

These issues relate directly to business stress and health. They include increased expectations around being available beyond the scope of normal working hours, being hyper-visible online, answering Slack messages at the drop of a hat, increased use of urgent language, and daily video training calls scheduled intrusively throughout lunch breaks.

All of which to say, work-life balance and personal power have been compromised, and a huge opportunity for increased focus and motivation are missed due to the factors I’ll explain below.

The Home Has Become the Office

Society is working longer and harder than before and finds it harder to switch off because now, the office is also the home. Managers who understand that the boundaries between personal and professional have been violated and understand that working from home isn’t necessarily ideal will get the best from their employees.

Managers can be more thoughtful by showing respect and awareness of the situation, such as cramped home environments (not everyone has a home office), children causing general disruption, managing household visitors from cleaners, parcel deliveries, and grocery drop-offs, combined with the added pressure to always be available online.

To motivate employees, where possible, allow them to gain freedom over their daily work. When employees feel trusted to make decisions and operate independently, it promotes feelings of well-being and self-confidence.

A 2020 study on the future of work showed that with covid-19 and the new normal, more people than ever are moving jobs for autonomy and flexibility. “People want to control when they work, where they work, and what they’re working on,” says Arvind Malhotra Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship at the UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School.[1]

The upshot is that the level of autonomy that employees experienced during the pandemic has, in turn, led to changes in employee expectation around the degree of autonomy that they expect going forward.

Simply put, employees now value autonomy more than they did in the pre-pandemic era. Therefore, companies that adapt to this will inevitably attract the best talent by default. Those that don’t will lose out, and rightly so.

This new outlook on life is also impacting the way employees view the traditional working hours of 9 to 5. Business owners must now consider rethinking this paradigm as it allows employees to complete work in blocks or batches, which is more convenient for the employee.

In essence, autonomy in all regards is now the attribute employees are prioritizing and can be used as a method of motivation.

2. Go Deeper

Taking it a step further, feeling valued as an employee and respected for who you are as a person beyond your role at the company is poised to become a key factor in motivation in the workplace.

People want to feel understood, valued, and respected. The introduction of “slack time” (i.e., letting employees focus on projects outside the scope of their normal role, e.g., developing a side project, learning to code, or picking up a language) has been adopted by many of the major tech players for some time.

When companies embrace the pursuits and endeavors of the individual beyond the workplace and promote them internally, it makes the employee feel valued and in turn creates meaning. This should not be overlooked. The value of doing meaningful work is what it’s all about.

I have experienced this myself working for Playground XYZ, the innovative attention-based mobile company headquartered out of Australia that readily embraced my role as an author, entrepreneur, and mentor, which made it such a privilege to work for them. When meaning can be attached to the job, it promotes a huge win for the company as employees identify more deeply with the products they are representing, the values of the company, and its core mission.

What companies should consider as it relates to employee motivation levels is the optimal level of side-project time to boost motivation in business. Does 10% make an adequate difference? How about 40%?

Whatever the percentage is, companies that can praise employees’ talents at the individual level and showcase them as valued members of the team will thrive.

3. Be Mindful When Using Technology

Zoom fatigue? We’ve all been there—a series of grueling back-to-back Zoom calls, flickering eyelids, the mental fog at the end of a long day fuelled by caffeine and inhaled lunches, and the urge to write just one more email.

But stop—this is not what the future of work will look like. There is a dire need for the consideration of building a “technology detox” into the normal routine of the working day of every employee so that it is adopted and becomes common practice.

Mindfulness in the workplace is another method of improving engagement, cognitive focus, and productivity. The mistake is reconciling that longer hours equal greater results.

Instead, having flexibility around walking meetings, in-person catch-ups, and time away from the requirement to be contactable boosts positivity and makes employee motivation levels sore. Imagine if every employee felt this burst of life.

The pandemic has shown that work can be done outside of the office, but there is a giant opportunity waiting to be unlocked. Those companies that find the appropriate balance will prevail.

Improving Team Motivation in the Workplace

Now, here are two important points to consider for improving team motivation in the workplace.

Doing the Opposite

This might sound counterintuitive, but it works. Yet, so many leaders get this wrong. The principle is that when you’re winning, it’s time to drive the team harder and when you’re losing, it’s time to show relatability and understanding.

Why then do so many leaders fail to put this into practice when it truly matters?

Most leaders panic when they see falling revenue numbers and instead of adopting a nurturing growth-centered presence, they go on a rampage, micromanaging and haranguing, destroying momentum, and creating a pressure cooker-type environment, which only serves to stifle and demotivate the team further.

I encourage you to try out doing the opposite if your team is currently behind on their numbers right now. Follow this strategy, and see how your attitude changes the results and goes a long way to building the momentum back up.

Notice how new information flows to you and fresh insights that would previously have remained hidden are suddenly revealed by the team. It takes courage to do this, but it demonstrates trust and empathy from which a newfound team dynamic can be developed. This is the glue that forms a strong bond between team members and their manager, which in turn promotes sharing of ideas and culture.

At times of heightened stress, motivate through encouragement, learning, and growth. The last thing your team needs is for you to turn into an overbearing manager who displays your stress levels for all to see.

This is poor leadership. The best leaders can control their emotions while giving employees what they need—a helping hand to understand that they will rise to the top through preparation and a solid plan of action.

Maintaining Core Values

When employees understand and operate by the company values, they have a road map, a battle plan, a way to make decisions that frees them from the mental overload of decision paralysis. When company values aren’t clear, made obvious, or ingrained, the culture of the organization will suffer dramatically. It will be lifeless.

Values are the rudder in the water that directs the wind in the sails and serve as guiding principles that must be taught, repeated daily, and lived by.

Ask yourself this, “what do we stand for?”

If you can’t answer this from a company perspective, then you are rudderless and when the storm hits, be prepared to take a battering.

More Tips on Motivating Employees

  • How To Boost Employee Motivation During Difficult Times


UNC Kenan-Flagler: Shaping the future of work

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