What Organizations Could Learn from Employee CAT Scans

Advances in brain imaging technologies are extending the reach of scientific comprehension into the complex and fascinating recesses of human motivation.

By studying detailed pictures of the brain’s responses to different situations neuroscientists are changing our understanding of why people act the way they do.

Business leaders have an opportunity to translate these discoveries about human motivation into organizational cultures and practices that support highly engaged, creative and motivated employees.

One of the things the neuroscientists are telling us is that the experience of feeling excluded, betrayed or unrecognized on the job evokes the same reaction in the brain as physical pain does.

In other words when people say that their feelings are “hurt” they are not being metaphorical, they are accurately describing a physical reality: you can see the part of the brain that registers pain lighting up in their CAT scans.

Whenever pain is registered in this part of the brain an automatic alarm system is triggered. This alarm system, which we know as the threat response mobilizes an array of physical responses to defend against the threat.

This threat response is the same neural reaction that drives us away from predators when we are afraid or toward food when we are hungry and, now we know it is triggered by our perception of how we are treated by other people.

The significance of this finding for work environments depending on collaboration and focused on productivity, is that when the threat response is triggered analytic thinking, creative insight and problem-solving decline precipitously.

Organizations who fully understand the implications of this research will:

-Strive to have a zero tolerance policy toward the behavior of people whose rudeness, poor communication skills, impatience and unfairness leave behind a residue of hurt feelings.

Train managers to become as vigilant about social and psychological contaminants in the workplace as they would be about dirt in a clean room.

-Understand that a developing respectful workplace is a productivity imperative and not just a compliance requirement.

Give employees the latitude to make decisions and support their need to build good relationships at work.

Train managers to skillfully exercise their ability to encourage, develop and energize employees.

Understand the difference between a demanding boss and a workplace bully and train leaders how to be calm under pressure.

Not tolerate their managers “making their numbers” in the short term if they are doing it at the expense of employee well-being and morale.

Because treating people fairly, making them feel included and recognizing their accomplishments are strategic requirements for improving innovation, creativity, collaboration and engagement.

Neuroscientists have the pictures to prove it.

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