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What are Needs and Preferences

In this project we have defined Preferences as the things users would like to have if they had the choice. Preferences are users’ wishes and desires which cause happiness and satisfaction when fulfilled. Preferences can easily be confused with needs. Needs are the issues that are necessary in order to perform well and to achieve certain goals. Preferences on the other hand are not necessarily needed to perform a task. In practice, an element of the work environment can of course be both a need and a preference at the same time.

A distinction between preferences and needs can also be made based on their effect. Roughly it can be said that needs do not increase satisfaction when fulfilled but they can cause dissatisfaction when left unfulfilled. Preferences on the other hand do not cause dissatisfaction if they are not met but they do increase satisfaction when they are fulfilled. A printer is a simple example of a pure need: having a printer at the office does not increase user satisfaction, but if the printer is out of order dissatisfaction is guaranteed. A luxurious coffee machine can serve as an example of a preference: it is not really needed to perform work tasks, and people (at least most) would not be dissatisfied purely because the office does not have a one, but IF all of the sudden a top of the notch coffee machine turned up at the office, most likely many people would get quite happy.

We are all different

Now you might be thinking that not everyone would be blissful if a coffee machine was brought in. What about the people who only drink tea? And this is where the catch is, we are all different! We all have different backgrounds, personalities, ways of working, needs, experiences, and so on. All these affect our preferences.

It should also be mentioned that preferences change over time, both as a consequence of internal and external changes. We get used to what we have and start taking it for granted. Preferences turn in to perceived needs and perhaps even to actual needs. If we go back to the printer example: when computers did not exist, nobody needed printers. When the first printers arrived to the office, employees were probably really happy about this new device that made life easier, even though using a typing machine did get the job done as well. Today printers are taken for granted, they are needed. And what about in the future? Could it be that we have everything in virtual format and nobody prints anything anymore?

The examples above are mainly preferences of individuals but we can talk about needs and preferences also on the organizational level. And just as the preferences of individuals, also the preferences of organizations vary. What makes it even more challenging is that preferences of employees might not be the same as preferences of the organization. The challenge is to find a balance between the two.