Why your employees need more dopamine to fall in love with your company

People live their job if they feel worthless. I have recently come across a very alarming result of a research of a few years ago carried out by Robert Half that shows that 66% of employees say they would “likely leave their job if they didn’t feel appreciated.” This is up significantly from 51% of employees who felt this way in 2012. As expected, among millennials, the number jumps to 76%. Appreciation is a critical factor for retaining talents but often leaders and managers struggle to apply this simple concept in their management processes. Most of the time, company recognition initiatives fail to address two critical challenges: increase performance and engage employees. To maximize the impact of recognition programs, it’s important to understand how our brain works and, in particular, the relationship between dopamine, motivation, and performance. Dopamine improves mood and increases focus, energy, and, eventually, motivation. It’s a neurotransmitter that is released when the brain expects a reward. However, many types of rewards at work don’t boost dopamine. They are just not effective to move the needle and make an impact on employees and results. In my experience, combined with researches from leading neuroscientists (Paul Zak in particular), there are five strategiesthat you should consider for helping employees release more dopamine, so they feel more appreciated, work better, get more results, and don’t leave the company:
  1. It’s not about money
Many studies have now proven that money is neither a strong motivator nor a performance factor. Money is an extrinsic motivator that is not as impactful as an internal drive to boost motivation. It’s not just that. There is little evidence that cash/money rewards improve performance, as they may inhibit internal motivation. By all means, I am not saying to stop paying bonuses, but don’t expect a spike in motivation as a result of that.
  1. Social recognition works better
Social recognition initiatives are more effective to boost dopamine. Praise employees publicly, for example, is a terrific boost of dopamine. And if it comes from peers and colleagues, it also increases bonding within the team. This doesn’t mean that private appreciation is not necessary. It’s as strong as public appreciation. On the other hand, don’t critique your people in front of others. This will only produce stress hormones and erode confidence. If you have to do it, do it always in private.
  1. Go beyond the expectation
As dopamine is released when we expect a reward, delivering the reward that is expected doesn’t make much difference. Instead, you can help employees release a spike in dopamine when you give them an unexpected reward. Surprise them. Our brain loves that, and dopamine is also activated when there is novelty (this is why people are more motivated when they start a new job, project, etc.
  1. Don’t forget the personal touch
If you want to make something unforgettable, don’t leave your personal touch at the door. The best rewards are highly personal. They touch the heart of your employees because they are addressed to them only. They don’t need to be huge in value, but they can’t be just a nice gesture. A good reward has to be valuable for the employees, and maybe for their families too. If they deliver amazing performance, they deserve something good and tangible.
  1. Deliver it on time
Finally, I see rewards given weeks or even months after the results have been achieved. This doesn’t work for our brain. Our brain expects a reward quickly, otherwise, dopamine drops and all motivation goes away. If you reward too late, our brain doesn’t release anymore that spikes. It doesn’t need to be immediate but certainly in a very short time from either the result being achieved or after the praise.   I hope you find these ideas insightful and easily applicable in your organization. I can guarantee your engagement and retention will increase as well as your business performance.
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