Neuroscience Pilots the Best Employee Engagement Activities

Leaders looking for optimum utilization of resources invariably turn to employee engagement activities to help tap into the unharnessed potential of their team. Using science, specifically neuroscience, to drive results is a safe bet to guarantee optimum results.

Leaders of the world of work no longer ask – why is employee engagement important – they realize how important it is to channelize employee engagement strategies supported by neuroscience and use them to increase employee satisfaction, loyalty towards the organization and productivity.

How neuroscience helps understand employee motivation

Employee motivation can be understood in its most empirical form by looking at how the mind works – the factors that make the mind feel good and want to work at its best speed. Neuroscience helps understand the human mind. An employee who feels threatened or under attack is insecure and won’t perform at the optimum. On the other hand, an employee who is made to feel comfortable takes in more information, makes better decisions and manages tough situations well.

Simple, routine processes like appraisals, interviews, feedback, and audits can be perceived as threats. To ensure that employees don’t get demoralized by perceived threats, leaders plan them carefully and embed employee engagement activities such as creating a knowledge sharing platform to keep the morale and learning high.

Judging employee engagement levels using the SCARF framework

The SCARF model by Dr. David Rock outlines how the human brain processes threats and opportunities, and this model acts as a guideline for leaders who wish to understand how to engage with their teams in a non-threatening, approachable way. With SCARF being the acronym for Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness and Fairness, this model describes how any new meeting (social or professional) or an item is perceived in the mind of the person undergoing the experience. In the professional context, an employee engagement survey question can reveal how workers truly feel about their organization.

S – Status: It refers to the security or the lack of it that an employee being evaluated feels. He/she may feel triggers of anxiety or even panic in situations where they are being evaluated. This happens from time to time at the workplace when one’s professional performance is under the scanner. It stems from a deep fear of being rejected and cast out of the circle one wishes to belong to. These emotional reactions can result in the employee acting defensive or unruly. Neuroscience suggests that line and staff managers should manage the situation to make it appear as less threatening.

For a leader at the workplace, the best way of handling an evaluation is by asking employees to evaluate themselves, and taking these pointers into consideration so that the brain’s perception of being assessed (or targeted) from an authority figure is mitigated. Employees who can assess themselves reasonably well can also come up with ideas to perform better, and such suggestions can be duly incorporated. A holistic approach to feedback can dispel tension. Employees would be better invested in their growth when the threat they perceive is lower.

C – Certainty: It is human nature to be uneasy about the unknown. This is a common feature in social as well as professional interactions. People tend to be wary of strangers and on a similar note are more uncertain of their status and situation when they don’t hear from their top management (or even immediate managers).

An increased level of communication combined with an open channel where employees can get clarification on a point can help reduce the tension associated with not knowing how their work is being viewed. It also clues in the top cadre on workable staff engagement ideas that will promote feelings of belonging among the employees.

A – Autonomy: The fact is that even a small amount of change can be perceived by the brain as a ‘threat’. When an employee is not given a choice about taking on a changed approach, the threat is even more real. It is common for employees who are asked to change their approach (work on a new technology platform or adapt to a new style of working) to feel they are under threat. Such a change causes an immediate dip in performance. The top management can step in under such circumstances to remind the employees that they are still the agents of their actions – they have control over how they react, adapt and move forward again. One way of doing this is to reduce the involvement of managers in day-to-day tasks, follow-up on every small action carried out by the employee. Removing the supervision from simple tasks can give reassurance to the employee that they are in the driver’s seat and this can bring back employee motivation.

R – Relatedness: Employees relate easily to people with whom they share a similarity – be it in the job role they play, life circumstances, or some other ‘common ground’. Once this common ground is found, employees are happier to collaborate and grow together. When they relate, the feel more secure, and the brain finds no reason to fight or evade the situations presented. They don’t hide information, rather they share more and help one another grow.

F – Fairness: When unfair treatment is meted out, the human brain becomes extremely sensitive and perceives potential threats to security. Particularly where top executives are concerned, teams reporting to them look for fairness and consistency. Even a whiff of preferential treatment can cause unrest among the team and it won’t take long for cracks to appear. The onus is on the immediate managers all the way up to the chiefs to ensure equitable treatment is shown so that the delicate balance of a team is retained. Performance-linked recognition and praise should be designed in keeping with the clause of fairness so that individual employee motivation is not disrupted.

When the balance of these five factors is preserved, employees have fertile grounds for the development of self and remaining loyal to the organization.


Andy Nelson, Improve Employee Engagement Using Neuroscience, The HR & Employee Engagement Community, Gethppy

Paula Clapon, 15 Employee Engagement activities that you can start doing now, The HR & Employee Engagement Community, Gethppy

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