Building the Bridge Between Survive and Thrive in the Workplace

Oftentimes getting from one place to another requires a bridge to cross. A connection point between two things that seem unconnected or so far apart they can’t be reached by conventional means is necessary. 

These “bridges” are often grounded in both sides of what they are trying to connect. They are meaningless and useless if they don’t have two sides for anchoring.  

So is true of meeting survival needs and getting to “thrive” needs in the workplace. Relational needs are the bridge. Relational needs have roots and support in both survive and thrive and they provide a way between the two.  Meeting relational needs is the bridge. They also may be the linchpin. 

In her book Atlas of the Heart, Brené Brown seeks to map and define the language of feelings and emotions before being able to build meaningful connections. In her section on “Places We Go When We Search For Connection” she seeks to define belonging and connection and contrast it with disconnection and loneliness. 

In this section, Brown drives home the point that relational needs (belonging and connection) are both about surviving and thriving. She states, “from an evolutionary perspective, connection was about survival, today, it’s what gives purpose and meaning in our lives. Research shows that ‘people who have strong connections with others are happier, healthier, and better able to cope with the stresses of everyday life.’”  

In contrast, disconnection can “‘actually share the same neural pathways with feelings of physical pain.’ Current neuroscience research shows that the pain and feelings of disconnection are often as real as physical pain.”  (For more on this and the connection to building inclusive workplaces, tune into this Neuroleadership Podcast.)

We need connection – pun intended – to build the bridge to meet our survival needs that are evolutionary and adaptive, as well as to help us meet our full potential and thrive-to produce meaningful, creative, and purpose-driven work.. 

So what do we do to meet relational needs and build bridges in the workplace?:

  1. Focus on communication. Communication is an essential part of relationships.  I found it fascinating in our 2021 book of the year, Do Nothing, how author Celeste Headlee emphasizes our need to communicate with voice as a key to meeting relational needs and thriving in the workplace (and in other places) in contrast to communicating through writing. Communicating with voice she postulates, instead of texting or emailing, helps to meet the evolutionary and neurological needs tied to relatedness. Our brains haven’t evolved enough for communication primarily through text, email, and other chat features to meet the lower order survival needs formed through relatedness. We need to be heard and we need to hear others to be successful in meeting relationship needs. She, among other authors, also points to how social media “communication” has largely reduced our ability to meet our relational needs and has fostered a culture of more disconnection and loneliness and the undesirable outcomes (as listed in Atlas of the Heart as “less empathy, more defensiveness, more numbing, and less sleeping”) these states produce. 

So, in the workplace we need to: 

a. Puts guardrails around communication almost exclusively done through means that don’t give people literal voice. COVID has made this harder. A simple guardrail would be “cameras on” during a virtual meeting. A larger area of focus would be training leaders on what modes of communication are appropriate given what needs to be communicated and teaching people how to not “hide” behind email and text messaging when difficult conversations are needed. Read Do Nothing  for more practical insights on this. 

b. Build workspaces that foster communication in person. This doesn’t mean the open office environment, but it does mean common spaces where people can interact formally and informally throughout the work day as people return to the office post pandemic. This could be common break areas for meals and common meetings areas conducive to formal meetings and also informal chats that pop up doing the workday. (Note: Don’t take this to mean we are advocating for a 100% return to the office all day, everyday post COVID.  Research shows that most people want a hybrid arrangement and the research also supports the critical piece autonomy and flexibility play in meeting thrive needs. More on this in next week’s post.) 

2. Focus on building psychological safety. In  Atlas of the Heart and her other works, Brown repeatedly emphasizes how important belonging is. She says that “true belonging doesn’t require us to change who we are; it requires us to be who we are.” The best way to foster this type of belonging that leads to meeting both survive and thrive needs is to build a psychologically safe environment.   Here is some more information from us on psychological safety and some tools for building a psychologically safe workplace from Google. 

When we produce a psychologically safe environment we get over the bridge to the thrive side, thus increasing positive workplace outcomes and diminishing negative ones as found in the research by Amy Edmondson.

In summation, work by William Patrick cited in  Atlas of the Heart emphasizes our need not for individualism (which we seem to value so much, particularly in western cultures) but from our “collective ability to plan, communicate, and work together.” Our workplaces can’t thrive without these things either. 

Interested in learning more about how to apply these principles in the workplace? Sign up for our  Illuminate workshop. 



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Mary Ila Ward