This year I had the pleasure of taking theblueballroom’s sponsor ticket for the IoIC conference (and unconference the evening before) in Brighton. Of an incredibly interesting line-up of topics, the one that stood out for me was Hilary Scarlett’s talk about the neuroscience of employee engagement, so I thought I’d share some highlights from her time on stage: Are you wondering, why neuroscience? What does this have to do with employee engagement? Well, Hilary explained to us how neuroscience analysis can help businesses support their employees through times of change, thus keeping them engaged.

We have the same brains as our ancestors, which I guess isn’t so hard to believe when you think about it, because why and how would they have changed really? So our brains haven’t changed, which means we’re not designed to live in the 21st century – big challenge!

Why do we as human beings dislike change so much? Our brains are wired for survival; they’re designed to protect us. Put simply, they are constantly working to minimise threat and maximise reward. In order to do this, our brains want to be able to predict so that they can keep us safe. And any sort of change disables our brains from predicting – that’s why we don’t like it.

Luckily, the same part of the brain that feels threatened is also activated by reward and gives our brains pleasure…

So how can we continue to keep employees performing really well during change?

  • Set short-term goals that people can achieve
  • Remind people of past achievements
  • Give people praise and recognition
  • Introduce some novelty into people’s everyday work
  • Use laughter as a good way of dealing with stress
  • Provide as much information as possible – when you provide it, our brains can predict
  • Practise ‘mindfulness’ – switch off the narrative

When we experience threat, our brains naturally react negatively and we become more difficult to influence positively. What are the key motivators in our brains?

Introducing Dr David Rock’s SCARF model

Get this right and apparently you’ll encourage collaboration and positivity, and see higher levels of engagement in your employees.

Status – this isn’t only about where we sit in an organisation, but how much we are valued and respected. We also enjoy being able to see and measure our improvement at work and feel we have strengths that others don’t. Certainty – our brains crave certainty, so it’s important to keep communication open, constant and dependable. Autonomy –we feel a strong need to have control over our work-lives, micromanaging doesn’t help! Relatedness –our brains are wired to be social – face-to-face meetings shouldn’t be a task, they’re important because they make us feel valued and like we belong. Fairness –the most important thing to consider during times of change – we need to know that we’ll always be treated fairly.

And finally, Hilary pointed out that it’s most important to remind employees of who’s benefitting from the work they’re doing. Having a shared goal creates a great sense of purpose and makes people better collaborators and listeners.

Now I’m sure some of you have heard some of this before in the form of ‘how tos’ and ‘top tips’ on engaging your employees through change etc. But for me it was great to learn about our brains through the neuroscience side. Because of it I am able to put method to the madness that goes through my head occasionally at work. At least now I can empathise AND understand where it’s coming from, and then work to find a solution. And scientific research has got to be a good way to get leaders to listen, right?