• David Steuer

Trigger These Four Key Brain Chemicals for Happier Workers

Updated: Mar 28, 2019

By focusing on employee perks and wellness programs on supporting healthy levels of these chemicals, you'll boost your team's creative energy and keep them happier.

When it comes to team motivation, there are myriad of articles out there to help. While many offer great advice -- include providing incentives, team building and promoting independence and autonomy among employees -- they miss out on discussing one important area: the neuroscience behind happiness and productivity.

Sean Kelly, CEO of SnackNation and expert on millennial culture in the workplace, is looking to brain science to help reinvent the workplace.

“We see our co-workers more than our spouses or our kids. There’s no separate work life and home life. It’s all just life. That’s why work-life integration is so important to our team, especially Millennials,” Kelly said in a presentation. “Companies that recognize this can make a significant difference with a relatively small investment.”

Kelly explains that much of our personal drive and happiness result from the interplay of four specific neurochemicals in the brain: endorphins, dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin. Medical research has proven that a lack or an excess of these chemicals can cause problems like mood imbalances, anxiety and even depression.

By focusing employee perks and wellness programs on supporting healthy levels of these chemicals, you’ll boost your team’s creative energy and keep them happier. You can start right now with some simple strategies.

1. Endorphins

Endorphins are the natural “feel good” chemicals in your body responsible for relieving pain, inducing euphoria and improving your self-esteem. These neurochemicals are natural pain and stress fighters.

For example, avid runners experience “runner’s high,” a pleasurable feeling that results from higher levels of endorphins due to sustained activity.

There are several ways to boost the release of endorphins among your staff members. Have spontaneous fun things to do like playing trivia or sharing funny videos. Offer simple treats like healthy snacks and encourage fun break times. Even consider using laughter yoga as a stress reliever at your next all-hands meeting.

2. Dopamine

Did you ever feel motivated to work hard because you knew something good would come out of it? That’s dopamine working its magic on you. Dopamine is the reason why we put in our best efforts to achieve rewards. This neurochemical has a strong association with the reward system in the human brain.

People who have low levels of dopamine generally procrastinate and lack the ability to concentrate on a task.

Two ways to take advantage of the positive effects of dopamine among your employees is to set goals and encourage them to focus on important metrics. Make sure you provide them with the tools and support they need to successfully get a task done. Most of all, celebrate milestones at work -- no matter how small they are.

3. Serotonin

Associated with feelings of confidence, happiness and relaxation, serotonin might just be your solution to keep your employees driven to complete tasks on their daily to-do list. When serotonin levels drop, a person is at risk for depression. Other symptoms of serotonin deficiency include but are not limited to anger, excessive dependence on others and poor self-esteem.

Natural light boosts serotonin production. However, for enclosed work environments where sunlight isn’t available, bright artificial lighting can help. Invest in light therapy lamps to keep workers energized and focused.

Serotonin can also be naturally found in foods like nuts, pineapples, eggs, seaweed and salmon. Encourage these healthy food choices throughout the day.

4. Oxytocin

Oxytocin is an amazing neurochemical in a way that it strengthens the bond between people, creating loyal and trustful relationships.

Mainly known to enhance the relationship between mothers and their children, oxytocin can also be stimulated in the workplace by means of giving your employees a handshake, a friendly (and office-appropriate) hug, or a pat on the back for a job well done. You may want to spring for in-office mobile massage to promote overall wellness.

Transforming Our Office Culture

Our modern culture seems to be working against healthy brain chemistry, according to Kelly. “Oxytocin and serotonin actually have analogs to two of the most powerful street drugs out there -- heroin and ecstasy, respectively,” Kelly notes. “Heroin lights up the exact same brain centers that oxytocin does. We are currently in the grip of the most devastating opioid addiction crisis this country has ever seen. Could it be because our society is devoid of the things that naturally provide this feeling? Things like loyalty, love, and trust?”

When leaders take into account the workings of the human brain to spark positivity and motivation, they can overcome a lot of these challenges at work. Kelly believes that leaders can rise to the challenge and create workplaces designed around well-being to become powerful agents for real change. Start feeding those brain chemicals and see the big difference in your team.

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