The Neurobiological Aspect of Employee Engagement and Productivity

Why be concerned about disengaged employees? For starters, Gallup's latest figures report that while employee engagement is increasing, over 65% of U.S. workers are still not engaged. And it is worse for Millenials, a dismal 71% are either not engaged or actively disengaged and 60% are open to new job opportunities. 

Disengaged employees are not only flight risks, they´re also less likely to be assets to your business. Gallup reports that among engaged employees, 70% feel that they know how to meet customer needs; 78% would recommend their company's products; and 67% would advocate for their company. Among the disengaged, those numbers are all a dismal 17% or less. Disengagement also means lost productivity—to the tune of $370 billion annually in the U.S.

What About Healthcare?

A case study looking at 29,000 healthcare employee opinion surveys determined that:

  • 85 percent of engaged employees displayed a genuinely caring attitude toward patients, compared to only 38 percent of disengaged employees.
  • 91 percent of engaged employees recognize their workplace as dedicated to patient care, compared to only 42 percent of disengaged employees.
  • 82 percent of engaged employees would want to use the facility where they work as a healthcare provider, compared to only 22 percent of disengaged employees.

Employee engagement has been linked to the improvement of a number of performance metrics  important in healthcare, such as:

  • Higher scores on the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) survey
  • Increased core measures, such as AMI-8A, which measures whether patients received angioplasty within 90 minutes of being admitted after suffering a heart attack.
  • Increased points under the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Service (CMS) Value-based Purchasing (VBP) program
  • Lower readmission penalities and improved teamwork and coordination

There are numerous articles touting the benefits of employee engagement in healthcare and outlining ways to  increase engagement through effective performance management (including ManageUP's free download below). These strategies are very effective however what if you could infuse employee engagement tools into the management of the core tasks and activities that healthcare employees must complete on a daily basis? In other words, reward employees automatically for their accomplishments. 

The Neurobiology of High Performance Management

I read a very interesting article recently, describing the neurobiological approach to high performance management. It outlined how  meaningful challenges provide motivation, energy and connection for employees especially when those challenges relate to the employee's own interests and values.  It went on to describe how the naturally occuring chemicals in our bodies can help  or hinder our performance at work.

  • Epinephrine (adrenaline) and norepinephrine (noradrenaline) work together to prepare the body to concentrate on the challenging tasks at hand, increasing blood flow and attention so we can perform at a peak level.
  • Dopamine  is a chemical that triggers the internal reward system and makes us feel good,  increasing optimism, comaraderie and sociability. It is released after a significant achievement and can be increased further if  you were a part of a close-knit team at the time of the achievement.
  • Cortisol commonly known as the stress hormone, is meant to protect us, helps us to be more alert to danger and is a result of fear. However, chronic exposure to cortisol is damaging to physical and mental health.

Dopamine typically lasts around 2 to 4 hours while cortisol can last up to 24 hours or longer when negativity (danger) is prolonged or constant. In order for employees to peform at their peak, research has shown that they need to receive more positive feedback than negative feedback. Roughly 5 positive (comments, encouragement, positive social interactions, etc.) for every negative  to feel appreciated and fairly treated or engaged.

How Does This Translate to Effective Management Practice?

  • Meaningful challenges can provide motivation, energy and connection  which  allows employees to achieve more and be more productive. This is especially true  if the challenges are tied to the employees values and interests.
  • Achieving those challenges increases employee motivation and engagement in the workplace.
  • For peak performance managers need to create an environment where positive feedback outweighs the negative and the focus is on what the employee has accomplished.

This doesn't mean that what employees are doing wrong should be overlooked, especially when that has to do with safety or quality concerns. It means that if at all possible, provide positive feedback on what was done well along with  counselling and mentoring on areas that need to be improved. 

Tools that can provide a built-in rewards system for tasks peformed well or completed on time can go a long way towards creating and automating the positive environment that increases dopamine and minimizes cortisol. ManageUP is one of those tools that uses gamification techniques to automatically reward employees for completing key tasks in a timely fashion thus increasing productivity and employee engagement.  


"Every Voice Matters: The Bottom Line on Employee and Physician Engagement"July 12, 2015 Press Ganey

"Employee Engagement" Gallup Topic 

"Caught in the Act!...of doing something right: A neurobiological approach to high performance managment."  by Michael McIntosh, April 5, 2016