Source: White Paper by Kirk Fisher, Faculty Head of the Australian Applied Management Colloquium
With advances in neuroscience in the past 15 years, we can now see in more detail than ever why changes in workplace culture have a strong effect on output and retention. With the right tools, we – as people leaders – can minimise the brain’s threat responses and promote a reward response in our team, writes ASAM Faculty Head Kirk Fisher. Today, like every day, billions of human brains go to work. This is nothing new. For centuries our ancestors rolled out of bed, dressed and offered their services for pay. What we know now, though, to a greater degree than ever, is what happens inside these heads. In this article I’d like to share a quick history of how we look at workplace happiness and productivity, and then share some more recent studies of what actually happens in our brains. Most importantly, I’d like to show why a positive organisational culture works.
Before we had our current brain scanning technology, we looked at the workplace as a matter of productivity. Efficiency studies in the 1930s showed us evidence that workplace morale made a difference. Experimenters in one early study looked at assemblers in the Hawthorne Electrical Factory. The experimenters changed a range of factors like toilet breaks, lighting and the length of the workday. The researchers observed that a sense of happiness, autonomy or control had a large effect on efficiency – even more than changes in pay, policy or physical discomfort. Workers performed better, for instance, when the experimenters installed a red button to control their lighting, heat and cold. The addition of the button increased productivity – even when they disconnected the wires to the button so it didn’t work.
The Social Brain
Brain pain in the workplace
Brains at work
We will see variations on this theme every day in our workplace. What we find, too, is that when team members learn how the brain works, our views change. While we used to view discussions of culture to be a ‘fluffy’ aspect of organisational leadership, we can now we see a basis for paying more attention to our social connections. Our brains work that way.
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Illustration: Samuel Valasco Source: Eisenberger, Lieberman, and Williams, Science, 2003 (social pain images); Lieberman et al., “The Neural Correlates of Placebo Effects: A Disruption Account,” Neuroimage, May 2004 (physical pain images)