Q&A

Solutions to your employee engagement problems…from neuroscience

We promise, the word ‘hippocampus’ doesn’t appear once in this article.
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Grant Thomas

· 4 min read

Could understanding neuroscience be the key to solving employee engagement problems?

Some of you may have just snorted. Sure, understanding neuroscience could be the key to solving nearly all problems, but it might seem about as attainable as learning how to unicycle on a tightrope while juggling. (Actually, that might be easier—HR professionals are known for their ability to multitask...)

Friederike Fabritius, neuroscientist and author of the bestselling book The Brain-Friendly Workplace: Why Talented People Quit and How to Get Them to Stay, assured us that understanding the brain is not as intimidating as it sounds. In our recent conversation, she explained how a worker’s brain chemistry can influence their behaviors and preferences, and how HR may be able to use that information to create effective employee experience programs.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Why did you decide to write this book?

In business, I always look at the diversity trainings and initiatives to increase diversity, and I always feel very strongly that there’s one crucial piece missing—what I call “neurosignature diversity.”

We don’t talk enough about the fact that we need different brains in the workplace. We need different personalities.

What is a neurosignature?

Your neurosignature is your unique activity pattern in your brain. No brain is the same as another brain—it’s similar to fingerprints…There are four chemicals that influence our brain: dopamine, serotonin, testosterone, and estrogen. Everybody has all four of them…They influence how you think, how you act, [and] how you feel.

Some people, for example, have a more active dopamine system, so they are naturally curious [and] energetic—they always want to explore, read a lot of books, do a lot of activities—while other people may have a high serotonin brain and they might be more interested in keeping their lives stable and avoiding risks.

In a business setting, it’s very important to have…diversity of different neurosignatures. In the research for my book, I identified something that I call a “neuro-gap,” [where] most people in leadership positions have high dopamine, high testosterone brains. [They] are tough minded, bold, ambitious, self-confident, [and] they tolerate high stress levels. They are great traits, but they create an environment that alienates people with high estrogen or high serotonin brains [who] may not enjoy working at that pace. So, what I’m trying to do with the book is to close the neuro-gap and to make the case for more neurosignature diversity in the workplace.

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Do workers need fMRIs to understand their particular signatures?

Once you have a basic understanding, it’s not so complicated. You can identify it in yourself and others just by observing—you absolutely do not have to go in an fMRI. That would be so impractical!

How do neurosignatures factor into preferences for workplace schedules, setups, and programming?

All the things that are good for the body are good for the brain, as well. We can make different neural signatures feel better by making sure people sleep enough, get the chance to exercise, [and] find harmony in their biology. Most workplaces don’t respect that…We need to respect different biorhythms—for example, some people love early mornings, some people the evening. Why force everyone to work at a certain hour?

The next step is to give people the possibility to get into flow at work. This has to do with your optimal stress point. In the book, I suggest a framework that…is about optimizing levels of dopamine, noradrenaline, and acetylcholine, but what that means for each individual depends on your neurosignature. So, it’s important to understand that some people need more stress, some people need less stress. Some people need to be in a quiet room by themselves, other people love a busy meeting area, so allowing different individuals to reach their flow by allowing for different ways of working, I think is fundamental.

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Quick-to-read HR news & insights

From recruiting and retention to company culture and the latest in HR tech, HR Brew delivers up-to-date industry news and tips to help HR pros stay nimble in today’s fast-changing business environment.