All Collections
The 4C Models & Survey Questions
The science behind the WeThrive surveys
The science behind the WeThrive surveys

The psychological approach that underpins all 3 WeThrive surveys

Lauren Rolfe avatar
Written by Lauren Rolfe
Updated over a week ago

The science behind WeThrive 4C Models

The WeThrive 4C models utilise a framework called Human Givens (1), which is an incredibly effective way of looking at human functioning. The Human Givens (HG) approach (2) is a set of organising ideas (3) that provides a holistic, scientific framework for understanding the way that individuals, workplaces, and society work.

Although the HG approach originated (4) in the field of psychotherapy 25 years ago, the organising ideas and framework contained in it have been found to be so universally applicable that its principles are now also being used in health care, social work, education, diplomacy, and business.

At its core is a highly empowering idea that human beings come into this world with a set of survival needs – physical and psychological. If those needs are met appropriately, it is not possible to be emotionally or mentally unwell, it is not possible to get stressed, anxious, or depressed, for example. Perhaps no more powerful a statement could ever be made about the human condition! When all our human needs are met in a healthy, balance way (at home and at work), we can achieve sustainable mental health, happiness, cognitive performance, and productivity!

The knowledge about the human needs comes from well-known pioneers. William James, Sigmund Freud, and Alfred Adler who first explored human needs; Abraham Maslow (5), the pioneer of humanistic psychology, who first talked about a hierarchy of needs; and William Glasser (6), who argued passionately that problems with our emotions, thinking and behaviour spring from our basic human needs not being met – such as our need for control, power, achievement, and intimacy.

The WeThrive approach is a combination of the latest scientific understandings from human sciences, such as neurobiology and psychology captured effectively in the Human Givens approach, the amazing insights provided by the research of the Human Givens approach founders Joe Griffin, and Ivan Tyrrell; and of course, the extensive experience and knowledge of the experts who contributed to the content of these new WeThrive surveys.

The contributors to the new Mental Health survey brought in expertise from general practice (GP), practical psychology, and psychotherapy, enabling the action recommendations that the tool gives to individuals be simple, practical, meaningful, and empowering.

The contributors to the new DEEI survey brought in over 70 years of combined business experience. Their own employee experiences and their expertise in DEEI, people management and practical psychology enabled us to create a survey that focuses on what really matters to people and that recommends a wide range of practical and meaningful actions that help managers to be better support, manage, and develop their people, teams, and organisations, and therefore create workplace conditions with true diversity, equality, equity, and inclusion.

For more information on how the first WeThrive Engagement survey was created click here.

Even if we are all same, we are all very different

As already said, we all come into this world with a set of genetically programmed survival needs, physical and psychological. Our survival needs are the result of millions of years of evolution, no one can escape them, they are built into our biology and genetic inheritance.

It is important to realise that “even if we are all same, we are all very different”, meaning that even if we all have the same innate human needs, we tend to experience them differently, we often seek to get them met differently and they can have a different meaning to each of us.

This is especially important to understand when we are helping or managing people. We need to realise that one size doesn’t fit all, and one style doesn’t suit everyone, when it comes to supporting, managing, and developing people, teams, and organisations, and even when designing work practices and work environments! “What I need is not necessarily the same as what you need”! The Golden Rule is not the way to go anymore, we need to apply the Platinum Rule (7) and learn to treat others the way THEY like to be treated.

Our physical needs

Like all animals we need air to breathe, water to drink, nutritious food to eat and sufficient amount of good quality sleep. We also need the freedom to stimulate our senses and exercise our muscles. To survive, we need protection from the elements i.e., a shelter, a home.

These physical needs are obvious, because if they are not met, we quickly suffer and even die. They tend to be well known, much talked about, and people accept that getting our basic physical needs met is vital.

Our psychological needs

Psychologists throughout the ages have determined that there are also other human needs, emotional and psychological, rather than physical, which are equally essential for us. Unfortunately, these needs are hardly ever discussed nor understood, even if they are vital to our mental health, well-being, happiness, cognitive performance, and productivity.

We share our three most primitive needs – our need for security, control, and respect with other animals. Any threat to those primitive needs can easily activate our brain’s threat system (fight or flight response) and the “danger” is often felt immediately and strongly, in our brain and body.

We need privacy – space and time to be still. Privacy is said to be the gateway to our brain’s higher functioning as it enables our brain to be offline and rest, so it can review what is happening around us, make sense of the reality, consolidate our experiences, and learn from them.

We have a strong, primitive need, for togetherness with other human beings. Our brain has evolved to connect with other human brains through attention exchange, ideally with people who understand us, and who will support and defend us. We all need at least one person in our life who accepts us for who we are. We evolved as pack animals, so we still have an innate need to feel we belong to something - that we are part of a “pack”, “tribe”, the world.

The need to feel that we have achieved i.e., done something useful every day is also essential, as is feeling competent about our own skills and abilities. This helps us feel that our life is moving forward and is useful.

Having a reason to get up each morning and feeling that our life has a meaning and purpose is vital, as that makes life worth living, through thick and thin, despite all obstacles or adversities.

Although WeThrive Mental Health survey’s primarily focus is on our psychological needs, it also assesses sleep and physical activity. Sleep is restorative to both our body (physical recovery) and brain (physical and psychological recovery). Physical activity helps us burn off harmful, unused stress hormones lessening both physical and psychological symptoms of our fight or flight response and stress, hence improve our mental wellbeing.

List of needs:

  1. We need to feel safe in our environment, physically, emotionally, financially.

  2. We need to feel we have autonomy and control over what happens to us and around us.

  3. We need to feel we are respected, accepted, and valued.

  4. We need privacy – need space and time to stop and be still.

  5. We need emotional connection to others.

  6. We need to be able to give attention to others.

  7. We need to be able to receive attention from others.

  8. We need to feel that we belong to something outside our immediate family.

  9. We need to have a sense of achievement and competence.

  10. We need to have a reason to get up in the morning and feel that our life has a meaning and purpose.

  11. We must get enough good quality sleep to stay mentally and physically healthy, to function and be productive.

  12. We need to be able to move our body, exercise our muscles.

Needs must be met in balance

All our human needs must be met in balance - too much of something, is as bad, as too little of something. When our needs are met in balance, we are mentally well, relatively stress free and have full access to our brain’s higher functioning that gives us our human intelligence, and our human abilities.

Not getting our human needs met in life or at work has a direct negative impact not only on our mental health, wellbeing, and happiness, but also on our intelligence, cognitive performance, and productivity!

As already mentioned, it is not possible to be emotionally or mentally unwell e.g., stressed, anxious (8), or depressed (9) – when we are getting all our human needs met, in a healthy, balanced way. However, when one or some of our needs are not met, we have a stress reaction. When many needs are not met, we suffer considerable distress! Chronic stress often leads to anxiety, depression and even addictions.

Our innate resources

To get our human needs met, nature has gifted us our very own internal 'guidance programme', our innate brain resources and human abilities, such as emotions, rational mind, imagination, memory, intuition, rapport building etc. They, together with our needs, make up what are called the ‘human givens’.

Just like with human needs, when it comes to human abilities, it is important to realise that “even if we are all same, we are all very different”, meaning that even if we all have the same brain resources and human abilities in our avail, we are all differently abled to use them.

This is especially important to understand when we are managing and developing people. Only when we understand that everyone is differently abled, and provide individuals with support, training, development, etc., based on their individual needs, can we build organisations with true diversity, equality, equity, and inclusion.

Our fight or flight response

To understand the importance of getting our human needs met at work, let’s look at the consequences of not getting them met.

As our brain’s primary purpose is to keep us alive and ensure our safety, it is continually monitoring our environment through the information received from our senses. Our brain matches it with our genetic programming, our survival needs and our previous experiences, quickly analysing each piece of information in order to assess whether it represents safety or danger.

When our brain detects danger to our survival, it can activate our ancient fight or flight response which immediately sets off a number of involuntary activities inside us, impacting both our brain and our body. When that happens, we are experiencing strong emotions, resulting our brain to actually change the way it operates. The more primitive part of the brain (our emotional brain) highjacks the system and inhibits the neural connections to our brain’s higher functioning, to our human abilities and intelligence!

That means, that when we are under any strong emotion – scared, angry, frustrated, stressed, anxious or depressed etc., our emotional brain is in charge, our higher functioning becomes secondary and our intelligence decreases! We can say that the higher the emotion, the lower the intelligence.

When we are highly emotionally aroused, we can lose our ability to think straight and make decisions; we lose perspective; we cannot see the bigger picture anymore; we see only problems, but no solutions; we cannot remember and have difficulties learning; we become short fused and start having conflicts with people; we lose our ability to focus, collaborate, be intuitive and creative; we start reacting - we start acting without thinking!

Not getting our human needs met at work can indicate danger to our brain and can thus have a direct impact not only on our mental health, wellbeing, and happiness, but also on our human abilities, intelligence, cognitive performance, and productivity!

Why are we increasingly unwell nowadays at work and at home?

We still have the same physical and psychological survival needs, as our ancestors had, and we still have the same ancient survival mechanisms, operating in our brain & body, as they had. The way of life, society, and the way people work, have been subtly changing over the centuries, but as those changes have happened over a longer period of time, people (our ancestors) were able to somewhat adjust to them.

However, the technological revolution, that we have been going through in the past 10 years or so, has drastically changed the way we carry out our jobs, live our lives and interact with each other. And of course, we all experienced the dramatic changes Covid brought to our lives, changes that have been almost incomprehensible. These changes have been and still are happening faster that we can adjust, and for sure faster, than we can genetically adjust, and as a result, we cannot get our genetically programmed survival needs met in our environments anymore, and that is what brings distress at work, and at home.

The focus of the WeThrive surveys

Although our psychological needs are less known and less talked about, to large extent they have greater importance to our mental wellbeing, happiness, productivity, and cognitive performance than our physical needs that tend to be relatively well met in our life (home & work).

The fact is that no matter how much fresh fruit we eat, how healthy our diet is, how mindful we try to be, or how much we meditate or exercise … if we continually live or work feeling unsafe, disrespected, isolated, disconnected, unsupported and ignored, i.e., don’t get our psychological needs met, our brain’s fight or flight response gets continually triggered off, its higher functioning continue to be disturbed, and we remain feeling distressed, mentally unwell, unhappy, and unproductive.

If we want to improve our mental health and happiness, and achieve sustainable mental wellbeing, we need to find ways to get all our human needs met in a healthy, balanced way. Once we understand what our human needs are, we can start seeking ways to get them better met by taking simple, straightforward actions, and we soon realise that we can be in charge of our own mental well-being. That is hugely empowering and inspiring! We can say that “every time we get our needs better met; we feel better”!

When we do things that enhance our survival i.e., help us get our innate human needs met, neurotransmitters and hormones such as Serotonin, Dopamine, Endorphins, and Oxytocin get released in our brain and body. Although they impact a variety of functions inside us and play roles in regulating a number of brain functions and behaviours, we can simplify their benefits by saying “they make us feel good”.

Serotonin is released when we feel proud, important, or significant, or when we are recognized for our achievements. Oxytocin gets released when we feel safe, have trust-based relationships, feel part of something, give or receive care or support, receive good attention from people around us, and feel respected. Dopamine gets released when we do something good, when we succeed, accomplish a task, or achieve a goal (this is the reason why crossing something off on a to-do list feels so good!). Laughter and physical activities release Endorphins.

The new WeThrive Mental Health survey that individuals can take for themselves will help them identify how they are getting their essential psychological needs met in their life (home and/or work) and what may be preventing them from getting needs met in a healthy, balanced way, hindering their mental wellbeing and happiness. The tool then gives people recommendations for simple, practical actions that can improve their mental well-being and happiness.

If we want our employees to be mentally well and stress free, if we want them to achieve optimal cognitive performance and productivity, we must ensure they get all their human needs met at work. The problems we experience in a workplace are just symptoms of those situations where we do not get our human needs met.

Unfortunately, the underlying causes – the root causes – of human distresses are often not understood, looked at, nor addressed, and many companies end up treating only the symptoms, not preventing nor permanently eliminating the root causes. The methods tend to only lessen the symptoms of unhappiness and stress, creating solutions that are sometimes short-lived and a bit meaningless.

The WeThrive DEEI survey assesses how each individual is experiencing diversity, equality, equity, and inclusion at work. It looks at the employee experience through the lenses of human needs. The non-anonymous surveys give line managers real insights and clarity about what exactly is happening in their team and with each individual. The tool identifies challenges people are experiencing and gives managers practical, straightforward recommendations for how to start improving each individual’s experience and help them get their human needs better met.

When we have well-functioning, meaningful and purposeful diversity, equality, equity, and inclusion in place, they enable us to create workplace conditions where everyone gets their needs met, regardless of their background, identity, abilities, or circumstances.

The WeThrive surveys are all about the human experience, human psychology, root causes and long-lasting solutions. They focus on those essential psychological needs, find out how people are getting them met and then address any unmet needs that are hindering people’s mental health and happiness, and negatively impact their employee experience and productivity. They focus on things that really matter to people, and provide practical and pragmatic actions for the employees, managers, and the whole organisation that bring long lasting improvements.


5. Maslow, A H (1971). The farther reaches of human nature. Viking, New York.

6. Glasser, W (1965). Reality theory. Harper & Row, New York.

Did this answer your question?