Workplace Wellbeing Academy


In 1985 Edward L Deci and Richard Ryan produced the book “Self Determination and Intrinsic Motivation in Human Behaviour”. This built upon research carried out in the previous decade into intrinsic motivation, the role that it played in human behaviour, and established the empirical base of what became known as Self Determination Theory (SDT). The practical applications of the theory have been the subject of a great deal of research in the present century.

The theory states that we all have three basic psychological needs. These are:

  • Autonomy
  • Competence
  • Relatedness

A sense of autonomy and control has been found to be one of the most important factors for human wellbeing, as a sense of agency can give us the impression of some level of freedom and control over our own destinies.

A feeling of competence has also been shown to be essential to positive wellbeing and that is perhaps understandable as mastery of aspects of our experience, such as the work that we do, will boost our feelings of autonomy and control.

Relatedness is the sense that we have meaningful relationships and interactions with other people who might support us and who we might also support. The social support we give each other has been found to also be an essential element of positive wellbeing in positive psychology research.

What does this mean in the workplace?

Management systems that take account of autonomy, competence, and relatedness in their models will produce teams that are more productive, loyal, and that are more able to cope with the prospect of change. Staff retention will improve as job satisfaction increases, and managers will spend far less time dealing with workplace stress-related issues.

Systems that allow team members to work in a way that suits them rather than merely telling them what to do can boost feelings of autonomy. Giving team members positive feedback for the good work that they do and engaging in proper communication about the training they feel they need to improve their skills will increase feelings of competence. Building a sense of belonging in teams through team-building exercises such as away days and other ways that staff can get to know each other outside of their working role will increase a feeling of relatedness.

These are only a few of the ways that applying the principles of Self Determination Theory can help promote productivity, job satisfaction, and wellbeing in the workplace.