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Employee Motivation in the Workplace Explained by Neuroscience

Posted by Sarah Lindner on September 10, 2015

This is the result of a Gallup survey for the year 2014. According to the survey, 70% of German workers perform their daily work with little or no commitment. Around 15% are even “actively discouraged.” Although their share has declined slightly – in the previous year the figure was 17% – this group of workers deprives the German economy by 73-95 billion euros annually. So how do you increase employee motivation in the workplace, on which the success of the company ultimately depends? Fact is, whether an employee quits internally or is heavily involved in the job depends on the work of managers. Managers can only take appropriate measures, however, if they understand how motivation in the human brain works.

Increasing Staff Motivation through an Understanding of Neuroscience.

Leading employees requires certain skills in dealing with people. Modern findings in neuroscience and brain research forms the basis for successful personal motivation. Once executives understand the operations of the reward system and the developmental process of motivation, they can derive instructions for themselves, strengthen their team, and react more flexibly and quickly to changes. Most notably, four areas of the human brain are responsible for employee motivation, according to the consulting firm “Effmert Consult:” the reward system, the emotional system, the memory system and the decision System can give some employee engagement ideas.

1. Reward System

In the reward system, the following three areas play the most important roles: the nucleus accumbens, the prefrontal region of the cerebral cortex, and the ventral tegmental area of the midbrain. The thought of something positive, i.e. a tasty meal, causes a reaction in the ventral tegmental area of the midbrain in which dopamine is secreted. If the person does eat a tasty dish, the cerebral cortex sends back the positive experience of the ventral tegmental area of the midbrain and the so-called “anterior loop” closes. Serotonin is released and the feeling of happiness and well-being sets in.

Create incentives!

To enable this reward system, employees often receive gifts or bonuses from their management. However, such incentive schemes for employees should be used unexpectedly and without notice, in order to prevent expectations and accustoming effects. Rewards can be cheap and need not always be of a material nature: a smile or a “thank you” also activates the reward system in the brain.

2. Emotional System

The review and processing of emotions first and foremost takes place in the amygdala. It pours out messengers, for example, cortisol for stress and anxiety or dopamine for joy. An important messenger substance is also oxytocin, which is both cause and effect of bonding experiences. In professional circles, the substance is referred to as the “social glue.”

Strengthen teamwork among your employees.

Cooperation and the creation of relationships – these are essential components for promoting work motivation. If an employee, for example, is met with a lot of confidence in a business transaction, oxytocin is increasingly distributed, as has been proven. As a result, stress and anxiety are reduced, and there is an increase in concentration and energy through increased dopamine emissions: a lot of responsibility and teamwork ensures motivated employees.

3. Reminder System

Our life is the sum of experiences and memories. If an experience is linked to a positive feeling in the brain, the memory can more easily access it. Thus, we can remember experiences better, in which the reward system is activated.

Have confidence in others and transfer responsibility.

Memories are produced in the same brain region as expectations. For personal motivation, this means that a relationship of trust must be built, based on reliability. If a promise was not fulfilled on behalf of management, the employee is most likely going to expect this behavior in future situations.

4. Decision-Making System

The command center, the decision-making system, is located in the prefrontal cortex in the front region of the brain. Reward system, emotional system and memory system deliver their information there – from which point the decision-making system can develop behaviors, make plans, etc. The other three regions of the brain are used to make decisions.

Listen and change your perspective more often.

Successful employee motivation thus results from the optimum interplay of all four systems. This interplay is different for every person: everything a person says or does, is the result of this complex relationship. Every manager should be clear about this, in group meetings or employee interviews. Managers must therefore learn that their employees do not think and act as they themselves, or their colleagues would. The ability to accept and to take this into account is one of the central tasks of an executive, who is supported by the findings of brain research.

Sources: Effmert Consult, Gallup, fql.de

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Topics: HR Trends, Feedback

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