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Engaging and Energizing Your Employees: It’s Not Rocket Science, It’s Brain Science

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Are your employees losing their edge?

That is, are you seeing their energy levels—not to mention performance levels—sliding downhill?

If so, you’re not alone.

The business world—from small and medium-sized organizations all the way up to large enterprises—is seeing a troubling trend: employees who are engaged, but exhausted.

What does this mean? Your employees may continue to be as loyal and committed as ever to the cause—that is, they come in early, stay late, and take pains to get things done—but they aren’t going above and beyond the call of duty unless absolutely necessary. They no longer take initiative. They are simply going through the motions.

Historically, organizations in this situation have tried to combat the problem by implementing traditional engagement machinery like employee surveys, town halls, newsletters and action plans. However, these initiatives focus on getting employees to give even more discretionary effort—a near-impossible feat when your people are already depleted.

So what can be done?

The answer lies in brain science.

Think of it: as the control centre of our thoughts, emotions, behaviors, and perceptions of the world around us, the brain is capable of astonishing levels of value creation.

With that in mind, here are three fundamental “brain science truths” to help guide your next employee engagement strategy: and create a culture that focuses on energizing and reinvigorating your workforce.

  1. The executive function rules

When we are low on energy, the first thing we lose is our “executive function:” the part of the brain that allows us to focus, regulate emotions, prioritize, plan, make decisions and take action.

In the working world, being low on energy means an employee’s survival-level thinking is functional, but their mind’s power tools are failing to operate: tools that enable us to think strategically, collaborate broadly, communicate clearly, and execute decisively.

When knowledge workers don’t have well-fuelled brains and are asked for more discretionary effort than they are able to produce, they are unable to think innovatively about how to get to root causes and fix systemic issues. This creates an ongoing system for depletion where organizations are constantly resorting to quick fixes, workarounds, and reactive firefighting.

The lesson: instead of focusing on managing engagement, leaders should be focusing on managing their employees’ energy.

  1. We feel before we think

The limbic system of our brain is the emotional centre that defines what we experience as reality. And not only that: science also shows that mirror neurons in the brain recognize when care, support and respect are present in the people with whom we interact—as well as when care, support and respect are being declared but disdain, contempt and boredom are being telegraphed.

Consider how often organizations use elaborate recognition ceremonies to thank employees. The leaders’ rational brains tell them the initiative is effective because the speech is well-written and their intentions are good. But if employees are not actually feeling that recognition, this effectively shuts down their willingness to offer discretionary effort, as well as their capacity to access their executive function.

According to the Corporate Leadership Council (CLC), emotional engagement releases four times the discretionary effort over rational engagement. So, if leaders want to manage energy and create a great employee experience, they must be able to target emotions, be authentic, show warmth, connect, and put words to their feelings.

  1. Conversation powers the brain

Meaningful, face-to-face conversation that demonstrates value and respect releases high-performance hormones in the brain, boosting the brain’s processing power by forming a feel-good energy cocktail of connection, calm, concentration, creativity and curiosity; promote trust, deepen the leader-employee relationship, and help to create a much greater sense of agency in others.

Conversation creates natural opportunities to unlock insight and possibility in employees’ minds. This generates energy, which fuels a great customer experience and great results. Because of that, conversation is a fundamental operating system that costs little—but yields much, much more than you likely ever thought possible.

Short, frequent “Energy Check” conversations are a proven and effective way to power up all your organization’s “apps” (such as customer service, feedback, coaching, strategy and innovation). It can be as simple as asking employees what is energizing them at the moment, and what is depleting their energy. Done systematically, this technique can catch issues before they become calamity-based, saving time in the process.

Combat brain drain

Without energy, the best you will ever get from your employees is dedicated under-performers. But by understanding and incorporating how the brain works into corporate culture, leaders can overcome resistance to the usual employee engagement strategies.

Using brain science, your organization can unlock passion, innovation, and enthusiasm in employees; generate true and sustainable engagement; and create a higher-performing workforce than you ever thought possible.

Brady Wilson is co-founder of Juice Inc., a corporate training company that services organizations from Toronto to Los Angeles. Also a speaker, trainer and author, Brady recently released his latest book, Beyond Engagement: A Brain-Based Approach That Blends the Engagement Managers Want with the Energy Employees Need. Follow Brady on Twitter, visit his website, or receive a FREE downloadable copy of his book by clicking here

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