How do we boost employee engagement when we are forced to endure remote working? The secret is in one aspect of human dynamics that isn’t changing: human biochemicals. First, let’s look at what is affecting workplace happiness.
Unplanned, mandated remote working due to the pandemic is having an impact on employee engagement. It’s not all bad news. According to a Hickman and Robison's study, "optimal engagement...occurs when employees spend 60 percent to 80 percent of their time working off-site - or three to four days in a five-day workweek." Employees who wanted more flexibility in working from home are reaping the unintended benefits the pandemic has created.
Not all employees are loving the new work / home environment. A new study has shown that those without dependents and remote-working mothers are reporting lower scores on effectiveness, engagement, and well-being. Working mothers are finding the pinch between family responsibilities and work commitments more challenging with no environmental reprieve, and those without dependents are missing the community interaction of a physical workplace.
With these new work conditions, some are happy while others are not. Regardless of location, biochemical friendly management strategies will bolster engagement.
Four biochemical triggers for better engagement
- Workplace trigger 1: Use stretch goals with clear targets and deadlines for endorphins
The first happy biochemicals are endorphins. Endorphins are the body’s painkillers, used to relieve stress and pain. They can give us a natural high. We can access this natural opioid through exercise, spicy food, dark chocolate, and laughing. Some creative CEOs could no doubt conjure a virtual costume dance party and deliver a hefty chili and chocolate fondue to hit those endorphin targets! In more daily practice, we can craft stretch goals and deadlines to encourage our teams to push a little harder. The thrill of achieving something just out of reach is as addictive as runner’s high!
- Workplace trigger 2: Make progress visible for dopamine
You know that simple pleasure when you tick something off of your to do list? That small sense of satisfaction is dopamine. Dopamine is one of the reasons why social media, with all its alerts, and email, with its notifications, is so addictive: our attention gets drawn to the promise of surprise and delight we find there, and dopamine is dumped into our system.
In the book, The Game Changer - How to use the science of motivation with the power of game design to shift behaviour, shape culture, and make clever happen, Dr Jason Fox insists that making progress visible is the number one strategy employers could deploy to boost engagement. This is as simple as having a to do list, a progress bar, a Gantt chart, a visual map with milestones. When we mark each step forward, we get a shot of dopamine, using the biochemical in a positive and constructive way.
- Workplace trigger 3: Recognise and celebrate for serotonin
All the task focus of dopamine and endorphins needs balancing otherwise we could drive our employees to burnout. Serotonin is the well-being and self-esteem biochemical that gets released in positive social situations. In the workplace, this is when we receive or witness praise and recognition. That little surge of pride when you see someone get an award? Serotonin. This is a most commonly under-used strategy that could have tremendous positive effect on workplace well-being. Incredibly, research shows 69% would work harder if their efforts were recognised more.
- Workplace trigger 4: Show care and curiosity for oxytocin
Oxytocin is the love and trust biochemical. It’s critical for well-bonded teams and for psychological safety. For CEOs, this means paying attention, being kind, having one on one conversations. Let people know they are welcome, wanted, and needed. Help them feel that they belong, that they are part of the team. Simple acknowledgement and a kind smile can cause an oxytocin surge.
Regardless of work structure, human happiness is a cocktail of biochemicals. Savvy CEOs will know the recipe, shake and stir in the best measure. While technology can be a double edged sword when it comes to the benefits of remote working, paying attention to the fundamentals of human engagement based on biochemistry will always reap benefits.