Ignoring the social needs of employee’s is a form of starvation.

Ignoring the social needs of employee’s is a form of starvation. How long could your staff perform effectively without food and water?

The five domains of social experience are so important to human wellbeing that our brain treats them just like other survival issues, such as being chased by a rabid dog!

In today’s world of increasing rapid change there is a growing need to improve the way people work together. Understanding the true drivers of human “social” behaviour has never been more important.

The field of neuroscience has produced some very exciting and important insights into the way humans relate to themselves and each other. The findings of the research into the functioning of the brain have real implications for the world of work and the way we manage, lead and collaborate.

There are two particular themes which are of particular interest:

(1)  Motivation which drives human behaviour is governed by an overarching organising principle of minimizing threat and maximising reward. (Gordon 2000)

(2)  Human social needs are just as important and real as our need for food and water, and the brain treats them in much the same way. For example when a team member’s status comes under threat, their brain will react as if there is a real threat to their life, such as a fire and the “Fight or Flight” survival response will kick in. As the response takes hold, logical, rational processing becomes harder, as does problem solving and previously perceived minor stresses start to appear as major stressors, making it difficult for the individual to perform effectively.

In 2008, David Rock captured the five domains of social experience in the SCARF model;

Status: relative importance to others

Certainty: being able to predict the future

Autonomy: a sense of control over things

Relatedness: a sense of belonging and fitting in

Fairness: a perception of fairness

Before continuing……………………… Just take a few minutes to reflect upon the last few years, all of the restructuring, downsizing, merging of teams and services, pay freezes, constant reminders of the weak economy……………

How have all of these factors impacted on your team? Perceived threats or rewards?

It would be true to say that for most, the last few years have produced far more threats than rewards for our social needs. The result being that we have:

  • low morale,
  • disengaged teams,
  • increased stress in the workplace and minor issues escalating into major conflicts, eating up valuable management time and resources

and all of this at a time when organisations have less staff and resources and need to have an engaged, flexible, focused and innovative workforce.

So how can neuroscience and the SCARF model help, in the real world?

(a)  Managers, need to have a conscious awareness of the perceived threats and rewards of their team members social experience. They need to be aware of the impact of their actions and words. For example, if the manager arrives at work and is pre-occupied with thoughts about a meeting later that morning, if he fails to say “Good morning” to a team member, as he passes them in the corridor, it could be perceived as a Status and Relatedness Threat and trigger the team member’s “Flight or Flight” response.

(b)  Threat response is much more sensitive than the Reward response and therefore can be triggered much easier.

(c)  Research carried out by Barbara Fredrickson, has shown that the tipping point for negative Threat responses to be balanced out by positive Reward responses is 3:1 (Rewards: Threats). If managers are to build strong resilient teams who can thrive in adversity they must find a way of providing many more perceived Reward response opportunities.

The SCARF Model

STATUS: Relative importance or pecking order within the team

How do you react when your manager asks you to go to their office? Most people respond with what’s wrong now! – A perceived Status Threat.

People go to great lengths to protect or increase their status with a team or organisation.

The good news is that as a manager you can reward Status by praising staff, delegating tasks, encouraging them to improve upon their personal best, enabling mastery of job etc.

CERTAINTY: Be able to predict the future

The human brain loves certainty, when the future is uncertain the brain works hard to find certainty, and uses up valuable processing functionality in doing so, meaning that team members have less resources available for their work. When team member’s jobs are at risk, the uncertainty can be so strong that team members become unable to concentrate and focus upon their work.

Managers need to help team members focus upon things which they can be certain about e.g. the date of an announcement, the process and procedures which will be followed, support available, training will be offered…………

Creating repetitive patterns can offer certainty, regular shifts, hours, team meetings, updates etc

Breaking complex projects down into smaller simple achievable steps is another way managers can help to create certainty and reduce the Threat

AUTOMONY: a sense of control over things

The degree of control a team member can exert over something determines whether it will be a perceived Threat or Reward. The more input and influence team members have in decision making, the less of a perceived Threat. It is not the outcome of the decision which creates the Threat it is the feeling of helplessness team member’s experience which is the problem.

Managers need to find ways of involving team members in decisions and projects. Team members should be given clear guidelines and parameters in which they can operate and exercise their judgement and decision making, without the fear of retribution.

RELATEDNESS: a sense of belonging and fitting in

The perception of whether someone is a friend or foe. Until proven otherwise, the brain is set to a default of treating everyone as a foe, which makes sense as part of our survival instinct.

Fortunately, it is not too hard to turn a perceived foe into a friend, a handshake, a pleasant conversation is all that is usually needed.

Positive feedback and praise, showing an interest in things which are important to individual team members, are all ways in which team members can receive a Relatedness Reward

Just as lack of acknowledgement, or not saying good morning can be a perceived Threat. And remember the ratio is 3:1 Rewards: Threats to maintain a healthy balance!

Other ways of increasing the Relatedness Reward are through Buddying, coaching, mentoring, action learning groups, encouraging informal meetings between colleagues

FAIRNESS: a perception of fairness

Team member’s sense of fairness should never be underestimated. It is not uncommon for human beings to sacrifice their own self-interest in the name of fairness. For example, if your partner found a £100 and gave you £5 you may feel that they were being a little unfair and tell them that you did not want the money. If we were to be rational about the situation accepting the £5 means that we would have more money in our pocket, but because we think our partner is unfair we would rather do without the additional cash.

How many times at work do you hear “It’s alright for them”, or “Managers have it easy, they don’t have to ……… all day”

To reduce Fairness Threats, mangers need to ensure transparency, e.g. allow financial information to be available, increase the level of communication with the team, have clear ground rules, expectations and objectives, so that everyone knows exactly what they can expect and is expected of them at all times.

To conclude:

I would recommend some quiet reflection, thinking back over the last few months or couple of years and assess the ratio of Rewards: Threats you and your team have experienced. Is it 3:1? If so you probably are one of the lucky few, as most teams I work with have a much lower Ratio probably much closer to 1:6 (Rewards :Threats)

You may yourself be experiencing an Autonomy Threat: Reward in-balance and feel that the Threats have mostly been created outside your area of influence, and to some extent you may be right, but there is always ways that managers can influence the balance internally within the team and I hope that this short article has given you a little food for thought.

If you would like to discuss your experiences and ways of increasing the rewards for you and your team, contact michelle.mcarthur@jigsawatwork.com

By Jigsaw@work.