The Neuroscience of Engagement

The Neuroscience of Employee Engagement

Job satisfaction is at the heart of employee engagement. And as early as 1959, it received decisive momentum when Psychologist Frederick Herzberg published the Two Factor theory of motivation. Herzberg’s research suggests that fulfilment at work is due to two set of factors:

  1. Motivators – intrinsic conditions of the job
  2. Hygiene factors – extrinsic factors causing in dissatisfaction if absent

With more advancements in brain science over past decades, Herzberg’s psychological studies have been given deeper scientific substance. Today, neuroscience (the study of the nervous system) can explain the fundamentals of human motivation at a molecular level.

This makes me question: how can we leverage neuroscience findings to help optimize employee engagement initiatives?

Let’s explore …

Neuroscience and Motivation

In “Motivation on the Brain – Applying the Neuroscience of Motivation in the Workplace”, Kimberly Schaufenbuel details the four core drivers of motivation at work:

  1. Drive to Defend: this is the only brain circuit triggered when people feel threatened.The most common “threat” at work is to feel undervalued. Usually triggered by lack of feedback or line manager interactions, it can be fixed through continuous, positive feedback.
  2. Drive to Acquire: the need to seek, to take control, and to retain objects and personal experiences of value in pursuit of immediate gratification.This can be fulfilled with short term gratification through employee recognition and rewards.
  3. Drive to Bond: the brain is wired to be social, and this drive allows like-minded people with shared interests to work cooperatively together.This is strengthened by a company culture where collaboration is valued, and leaders positively “walk the talk”.
  4. Drive to Learn: The natural desire to make sense of our world and ourselves. It exists in a cooperative atmosphere where curiosity is rewarded and knowledge freely shared.Through appreciation and gratitude, you can encourage creativity and learning.

Address the Drive to Defend: Continuous Feedback

Drive to Defend- Neuroscience and Engagement

Did you know that our brain interprets “social pain” much like physical pain?

This is the conclusion of the work by Naomi Eisenberger, Psychologist at UCLA.

Let’s take employee feedback and annual reviews for instance. If sporadic, people can experience those as an attack on their “status”. The brain is quick to perceive feedback like a physical attack, and reacts with a defensive strategy.

Achievers, a leader in employee engagement and recognition, has been an advocate of continuous feedback and listening. Egan Cheung, Vice President of Product at Achievers, shared at the 8th Annual Achievers Customer Experience (ACE) conference in New Orleans:

“To engage a modern workforce, an organization needs to be continuously listening to its employees.”

Access to constant feedback is now real. Achievers recently released Listen, where employees can provide feedback to management on their day-to-day issues via check-ins and pulse surveys.

Achievers’ Listen goes even a step further, taking into consideration the importance of positive feedback. Allie, an intelligent, digital “coach”; interacts with employees in a familiar conversational way, while guiding employees with effective feedback and providing recommendations back to managers.

Address the Drive to Acquire: Incentives

Drive to Acquire - Neuroscience and Engagement

The value of incentives to motivate employees has been debated for long. Still, money can be effective to express appreciation: a survey by Harris Interactive and Glassdoor revealed that 75% of employees consider a pay raise as a form of appreciation.

But some leaders argue material gifts are a short-term fix only. What does neuroscience to say about it?

Receiving a gift triggers an immediate dopamine response in the brain. Described initially by Wolfram Schultzreward more than 30 years ago, reward systems in the brain heavily influences our behavior.

Achievers’ platform is a good example of alternatives to cash bonuses. Through points-based employee recognition, each employee can receive monetary and non-monetary based rewards and recognition.

And it works! As shared at ACE 2017, organizations using a rewards and recognition technology solution reported better levels of employee engagement, employee retention, and productivity over the course of a year.

Address the Drive to Bond: Social Connection

Drive to Bond - Neuroscience and Engagement

Matt Lieberman is the Director of UCLA’s Social Cognitive Neuroscience lab. In his TEDx St. Louis talk “The Brain and Its Superpowers”, he shares:

“Social is not one of our programs. It is our basic operating system.”

According to Matt Lieberman, the default state of the brain (when where we’re not cognitively engaged in anything specific) is to deepen our social cognition network. He shares:

“This network comes on like a reflex to think about other people’s minds — their thoughts, feelings and goals…It promotes understanding and empathy, cooperation and consideration.”

Promoting social bonds is a pivotal dimension of employee engagement. As organizations go global, a common platform to share and connect is a simple way to tap into social drive.

A case study covering Ericsson’s employee engagement and recognition program stated:

“The program spreads positivity throughout the geographically dispersed organization, connecting employees – through recognitions they post on daily basis – to each other, and to the company”

Address the Drive to Learn: Appreciation
Drive to Learn - Neuroscience and Engagement

Small acts of generosity and gratitude trigger a specific neurobiological feedback loop. Glenn R. Fox (Brain and Creativity Institute at USC), conducted extensive research and concluded:

“When the brain feels gratitude, it activates areas responsible for feelings of reward, moral cognition, subjective value judgments, fairness, economic decision-making and self-reference.”

Employee recognition can directly impact employee engagement levels. As the brain responds to gratitude with a positive feedback loop, needless to say that a recognition-based culture can do more than a feel-good effect! The by-products of gratitude at work are serious business assets, such as enhanced creativity, increased happiness and productivity, and better cooperation within teams.

By aligning your employee engagement strategies to main human motivation drivers, you tap into dopamine reward loops and create a lasting positive feeling.

What is the value behind employee engagement? To learn more, download this white paper covering The True Cost of Disengagement. 

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Do you have any thoughts on this article? Share your comments below.

About the Author

Coralie SawrukCoralie Sawruk helps global organizations create efficient team dynamics. A people-person at heart, she believes the ultimate competitive advantage is created by the right talents working hand-in-hand, cheerfully.

Coralie shares her insights on human-centric leadership and leading happy teams on her website.

Get in touch on LinkedIn.



HR Technology Trends

Major Trends in HR Technology Software

Employees are the most valuable part of any organization and HR’s responsibility to engage employees is crucial for organizational growth. The latest development in the ever-changing world of HR technology software consists of major disrupters within the recent years, from listening tools to in-depth analytics and much more.

According to an article published by the Society of Human Resource Management, it was claimed ‘Investors, seeking the next big step in breakthrough technology, plunged more than $2 billion into HR tech systems and platforms in 2016.’ This clearly states the massive breadth of advancements the HR world has gained accessed to. There has been a major change in the field of human resources – from simplified employee recognition to enhanced performance management platforms, HR is becoming high tech and data-driven. Manually keeping records on file is no longer efficient and this need to stay in a modern workplace calls for robust HR technology software to assist in taking care of HR goals targeted towards employee engagement and an effortless and unbeatable employee experience.

Below are major trends in the HR technology software world:

Growth of HR Software

Bersin by Deloitte provided an HR Software evolution report in 2016, which clearly showed the evolution and market growth of HR systems over the years.

Bersin by Deloitte provided an HR Software evolution report in 2016

The report shows the progress from the year 2000. Switching from mainframe computers to personal computers was a major shift in the technological world. This led to the growth and development in the field of software and led to the creation of HR software. Client-server software delivered core HR features such as record capturing, hiring, payroll, and learning management. In 2000, talent competition grew more leading to the market for talent management software. The more advancements made in technology, the more opportunity HR had to develop platforms and programs surrounding other initiatives outside of employee record keeping, such as the ability to leverage employee engagement and employee recognition and rewards platforms. And over the years, now the entire hr technology software trend has moved and continues to move undoubtedly to cloud computing.

Switching to a Cloud-Based System

Legacy HR software has always focused on task completion and storing information. But now, companies want to replace their traditional HR software with cloud-based HR solutions. The major advantages of moving to cloud based HR software consists of anywhere access, super user-friendliness, mobile app support, easy upgrades, lesser maintenance and, most importantly, little or no requirements for IT infrastructure like hardware and trained staff. All you need is a computer and an internet connection and you are set to go!

Integration with Social Media and Learning Management

When it comes to trends, social media is leading the charge. It not only allows for network building but now social media can be an effective way to communicate at the workplace. Using simple, fun ways to communicate via emojis and hashtags can contribute to improving the employee experience. Even the ability to send social recognitions across an employee recognition platform can help boost employee engagement.

Also, Learning Management Systems (LMS) are now turning into an old tool. HR is adopting the latest web-based technology for taking interviews. Video-based learning is now a fundamental learning platform and already adopted by multiple companies. Visual element supporting features in HR software are now a must-have given the rise of VR and AI.

Predictive Analysis of Employees

A more integrated approach is being adopted when it comes to communication tools. People prefer to have an end-to-end technology-enabled platform for interpersonal communication. Tools that allow data to be collected and shared across departments and organizations are preferred because it allows quick access to real-time insight.

Pulse surveys, employee recognition and rewards, culture assessments or any other approach that merges all employee needs in one group is required by an HR department – think of it as a one-stop shop for HR. They now believe that building a predictive analysis model and harnessing employee data is more important and today many companies are spending large sums of budget to get this done.

Mobile is “The Platform”

With all this advancement in technology, we can see a whole new world coming up. If you look around, there are more mobile devices than PCs and laptops. People talk on a phone, walk with a phone and now even wake up and sleep with a phone. We prefer to access all information on our mobile.

This means that HR technology software also has to adapt accordingly. For example, mobile applications can be a huge benefit to recruiters as many high potential candidates use their mobile devices to find a job and can apply easily while on the go. HR mobile applications should be mobile-friendly and easy-to-use to stay current with how employees prefer to communicate and engage.

Breakthrough in HR Technologies

As we are now moving ahead of the computer revolution, core technologies are not enough, instead their refinements are given more importance. Simple and smart technologies have taken over the hyped and complex core technologies. User-friendliness and delivering targeted results efficiently is the main focus. Companies now ask if the HR software they are considering buying is easy to use and accessible to their employees. Overall, what matters most is smart data, value for money, and user-friendliness.

The development of HR technology software has a symbiotic relationship with both businesses and employees. It will enable organizations to grow HR initiatives more effectively – whether it is improving performance management, employee recognition, or employee engagement. Technology helps create transparency and enable employees and HR departments to stay updated on progress, engagement levels, and more.

So business owners, let’s get the ball rolling and strive to create a transparent working environment with HR technology software.

To learn more about HR tech, in particular employee engagement and analytics, download the eBook Employee Engagement: Four Places to Start Measuring What Matters.

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About the Author
Sanjay Darji
Sanjay Darji works as a software analyst at SoftwareSuggest. His interests include HR software, performance management, employee engagement, photography, and food. In his spare time, he likes to spend time with his son and catch up on the latest technologies. You can follow him on Twitter at @sanjaydarji01.






Take Advantage of HR Tech

5 Creative Ways to Engage Employees with HR Tech

It’s no secret that an engaged employee is a productive employee, but fostering and maintaining that initial focus and enthusiasm is no easy task. Employee engagement relies on sparking an emotional investment in the company and creating an atmosphere in which everyone is motivated to work toward common goals. Considering only 29 percent of workers say they’re actively engaged at work, this is an issue most businesses contend with on a daily basis. Digital technology has rewritten the rules for both business and personal interactions. It’s surprising that 89% of the workforce feels they aren’t provided with the latest technology when it’s become such a necessity in the modern workplace. For savvy HR teams, there are myriad ways to bring positive change to the workplace and encourage employees to communicate, share and participate leveraging HR tech. Let’s take a look at a few ways technology is changing HR for the better.

  1. Play Around with Gamification

About 40 percent of Global 1000 organizations use some form of gamification to keep their employees engaged and invested, but what is it and how does it work? Gamification is simply a way to apply elements typically found in games – achievement-tracking, peer competition, immediate feedback and so on – onto a variety of real-world situations. HR tech platforms use these factors to tap into employees’ psychological motivators, encouraging good-natured competition and social sharing that drives determination and fun.

  1. Personalize the Employee Experience

Every employee wants to know that their unique needs and abilities are frequently recognized, and one way to accomplish this is through delivering a personalized working experience. This means making the extra effort to understand each employee’s specific wants, needs and preferences and catering to them, from the initial hiring process all the way through day-to-day activities and tasks.

Software platforms simplify this task, making it easier to customize everything from onboarding to benefits enrollment to ensure that each employee has the support and experiences they want. If your company offers a wide range of benefits, you can also leverage computer algorithms to help your employees identify the benefits that are most useful to them. This kind of individualized attention drives home the point that each employee is valued and respected, making them more likely to invest personally in their work.

  1. Manage Employee Feedback

When it comes to employee engagement, few things are more important than providing ways for workers to give feedback on the issues that matter to them. Employees need to know that their voices are being heard, and pulse surveys are one way to ensure that happens. Pulse surveys can be used to gather data on virtually anything, from gauging feelings about a recent significant change within the company to tracking the effects of action initiatives. This allows employees to offer real-time feedback and also provides managers with the valuable information they need to guide their decisions and inform strategy. However, it’s important that you have a genuine commitment to acting on the results of these surveys, as engagement may actually suffer if employees feel their input has fallen on deaf ears.

  1. Reward and Recognize Employees

Everyone wants to be recognized for their good work and achievements, but many employees feel their efforts go largely unnoticed. One way to remedy that is through HR tech tools and cloud-based platforms such as Achievers that encourage peer-to-peer recognition. Whether it comes in the form of leaderboards, awards or social and monetary recognitions, these tools keep employees engaged by recognizing achievements and creating a fun, friendly competition in the workplace. In fact, 75% of employees who were recognized by their manager once a month reported being satisfied with their job.

  1. Stay Connected

At 43 percent of all employed Americans, a greater number of employees than ever before are spending at least part of their time working remotely. While remote working on its own has been connected to higher employee engagement and greater employee satisfaction, it’s still important to make the employee experience as smooth as possible. Meeting with workers at their home office will require some different approaches and balance acts – consider exploring communication and web conferencing tools to keep in touch without a keyboard. If your remote workers need to use a variety of different systems during the course of their work, APIs can be used to tie disparate platforms together into a convenient and efficient whole.

No company can thrive without happy, motivated workers. In fact, companies with engaged employees typically outperform those without by up to a staggering 202 percent. By leveraging the technologies laid out above, you can streamline your HR responsibilities and help foster a friendly, productive environment that encourages your employees to reach their full potential.

To learn more about the importance of employee engagement, check out this fun infographic 6 Stats That Speak to Employee Retention

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About the Author
Beth Kotz is a freelance contributor for numerous home, technology, and personal finance blogs. She graduated with BA in Communications and Media from DePaul University in Chicago, IL where she continues to live and write. You can find her latest work at

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