Understanding the Neuroscience of an Engaged Employee

Leadership & Managing People
Published on
June 2, 2018

In a recent study by Queen School of Business and Gallup Organisation, it was found that organisations with low engagement scores experienced 18% drop in productivity, 16% lower profitability, 37% reduction in job growth and 65% lower share prices.  Engaged employees have a significant effect on the functioning and the success of a company.

Strong engagement is defined by a few psychological factors like feeling connected with colleagues, rewards, feeling of being a significant contributor and a steep learning curve. David Rock, Director at NeuroLeadership Institute talks about how neuroscience helps to understand what makes our brain perform at its best and how this information can be effectively leveraged to increase engagement, thereby increasing profitability and business growth for companies.

Neurological factors that affect employee engagement

The four major principles which drive an engaged workplace are:-

1.       LEADERSHIP AND BUSINESS STRATEGY – The ability of top management to provide a clear understanding of an employee’s contribution to the organisational goals is the foremost requirement to improve engagement. Organisations must have a story to convey which talks about how every employee is contributing towards their success and make the contribution visible to the extent of business growth. It provides an employee with a sense of being valuable and making a difference to the business they are working for. 

2.       A MANAGER WHO IS A MENTOR – 72% employees agree that engaged managers who actively participate in their day-to-day task, make sure that every employee feels a part of the team and provide effective communication and feedback channels drive far more job satisfaction and productivity. 

3.       TRUST AND INTEGRITY- All organisations have a vision and mission statement which talks about core values that must be followed and imbibed into the company culture. However, many of them fail to bring it into practice within the organisations and they remain an etched part of a wall which is usually ignored. The values an organisation talks about and preaches must resonate with what an employee experiences on a day to day basis. Our brains actively sense activities supporting contrary values and this can create uncertainty and lack of trust towards an organisation. 

4.       RIGHT TO VOICE OPINION – A research by Amy Edmondson from Harvard says that employees feel less fearful in a culture which promotes inclusiveness and encourages its employees to speak up or ask for help, leading to better performance and learning. 

These four factors play a major role in increasing performance at the workplace and creating positive outlook towards employer and organisation.

Leveraging Neuroscience for better employee engagement

A positive workplace environment plays a crucial role in ensuring effective engagement. To improve employee engagement effectively, we must act on the neurological factors below that have a high impact on employees. Here are four action items that leadership teams & managers can adopt for higher engagement.

1.       AVOID THREAT – One of the quickest triggers to the brain is when it senses a threat. At the workplace, this is caused by lack of continuous feedback. In organisations which have sporadic feedbacks systems like annual reviews, feedback is received by the brain as an attack and it naturally draws up defence strategies to avoid the threat. Hence, most leaders in employee engagement and recognition believe that continuous feedback and listening enables these reviews to be guiding mechanism for employees to work upon rather than making them feel undervalued and become defensive. When brain feels threatened, it closes itself to ideas and employees can start to see the workplace as a more hostile environment.

2.       REWARDS AND RECOGNITIONS – the Human brain is wired to be motivated when it sees rewards and incentives as a result of any task. A survey by Harris Interactive and Glassdoor revealed that pay raise is considered as the most important form of appreciation by 75% employees. However, it is also believed by many industry experts that money can only be a short-term motivating factor to increase employee performance and engagement. Most big organisations today are experimenting with Achievers’ portals and platforms to drive point-based recognition as an alternative to cash incentives. At ACE 2017, organisations reported better levels of employee engagement, retention and productivity by adopting rewards and recognition technologies.    

3.       PREDICTABILITY – The brain often fears the unknown. This is also reflected in an employee’s focus on his work. If the brain feels threatened by uncertainties, it becomes highly alert and makes a person feel less safe and focused. Here, the clarity provided by the leadership in terms of individual and organisational goals and expectations helps employees to be more confident and relaxed about their jobs and drive better engagement.

4.       SOCIAL CONNECTIONS AND INCLUSIVENESS – humans are wired to feel connected both in personal and professional space. At the workplace, we are constantly trying to be a part of a team and feel connected to our manager and the organisation. Acceptance and recognition in a social circle are one of the main motivational drivers for the brain.

Sustained engagement depends on an employee’s ability to be at their creative best, work as a part of the team and his contribution towards effective problem-solving.






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