Learning Lab

Contribution and Worker Engagement From A Neuroscience Point of View

By Amy Brann

Research has found that 25% of the people surveyed were only going to work to pick up a paycheque. Workers who do not feel engaged in their workplace create a work environment that neither they, nor their employers fully benefit from. As we take a deeper look to see what underpins this feeling of disengagement, it points to a sense of contribution, both on an individual and organizational level.

Engaging the Amygdala

In order to fully engage with the work environment, there must be a feeling of pleasure-reward embedded in the work process. One way to encourage this feeling of pleasure-reward, is to let the person doing the work understand the narrative of how his/her work is making a difference. When an individual feel that their efforts are improving the world when they show up for work every workday it compels them to want to come back the next day and work to improve the world all over again.

It is a common human trait to desire belonging to a greater cause. Being part of a greater cause stimulates the amygdala in the brain, which in turn creates a feeling of pride and pleasure in one’s work. This can mean the difference between just showing up in the morning and being a “warm body” and a worker who pops out of bed each morning genuinely excited to accomplish something great that day on behalf of themselves and the organization.

What organizations can do to attract engaged workers

Research shows that a feeling of connection and contribution is very appealing to workers. Millenials are particularly interested in work opportunities where they feel they are working for positive corporate citizens. Therefore, organizations who are seen as good corporate citizens hold a significant advantage in being able to choose the cream of the crop from potential employees.

Social responsibility and pro-environmental policies are an important driver to attract engaged workers who feel proud to work and promote the greater cause of its continued success for the company. Because these workers are motivated by more than money, they feel like they are a part of an organization that is making a positive impact on the world. This creates pleasurable sensations in the sensors of the brain which then facilitate positive chemistry that makes work a pleasurable behavior that workers will want to be a part of again and again.

Work with a purpose

Many of us have held a position at one time or another that required a great deal of “busy work”. Examples of this are perhaps creating reports that no one actually reads, or an endless list of tasks that seem to have no direct purpose. This type of work does not create an environment of vigor that is desired by employees and employers alike. The fact that the time and attention invested in a task does not result in something that can be seen as a productive use or time turns enthusiastic workers into paperwork zombies groaning and dragging about the office space.

No one wants to work with paperwork zombies. Talented leaders understand the importance of a workflow inventory of the day-to-day tasks; to ensure that each task has a strong and productive purpose to the activity. Furthermore, that the people responsible for that task are aware of its importance. When people can connect understanding value about how contribution to the organization is important, it creates greater excitement to do the task well.

Organizational leaders want employees to be absorbed in their tasks while in the work environment. When an employee feels the s/he is part of a beneficial cause, that knowledge inspires a higher level of achievement.

Growth and Learning

In addition to working for an organization that makes a difference, there must be something more. The promise of hope that there is potential to learn and grow in one’s field of expertise. When employees are engaged in cognitive stimulation activities, such as in the process of learning more, doing more, and having more responsibility too can offer a tremendous feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction motivating employees to be more engaged. This engagement comes from a sense that they can learn more and be more successful both in a personal and organizational position. This improvement encourages a feeling of importance and dignity, which in turn improves feelings of connection to the workplace.

What kind of work offers the greatest sense of satisfaction? Is a sense of making the world better required to feel fully engaged in the work process? Many coaches begin the work of coaching because they feel that they can make life better for others. They do the work to feel a sense of contribution regardless of how difficult the work can sometimes be. It would seem then that this feeling of connection and contribution hold true in this example. Once leaders, coaches, and clients understand the importance of contribution they may be led to ask themselves. In what other ways can I contribute so that life may feel more satisfying?

Corporate Responsibility White Paper. Charities.org http://www.charities.org/sites/default/files/corporate_responsibility_white_paper%20copy.pdf

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