How Can Neuroscience Improve Your Employee's Motivation?

Illustration of Employees Interpreting Same Event as Threat versus Reward

According to research by David Rock, the human brain judges everything as a threat or reward.

Illustration of Person Choosing Safety versus Danger

Our reflexive, unconscious response is to move away from threats and move towards rewards.

Illustration of Person Choosing Safety versus Danger
Illustration of Person Taking Risk in Workplace

This assessment happens for every interaction and activity, including in the workplace.

When your brain perceives a threat, your cognitive resources are diminished, performance declines, and you become less motivated.

Illustration Showing Correlation Between Perceived Threats and Low Performance

What triggers the threat or reward response?

Rock's research found five domains that trigger the primary reward or threat circuitry in our brains: Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness, and Fairness. These form the acronym SCARF.

Status

Illustration of Excited Person Receiving Crown

Status is our perceived importance relative to others in a group.

Threats to status include:

  • Receiving unwanted advice or instructions
  • Feeling left out of an activity
  • Being told you're wrong

Status can be increased by:

  • Receiving positive feedback
  • Learning or improving
  • Bettering past results

Certainty

Illustration of Person Dealing with Doubts

Certainty is the belief that something is reliably true.

Illustration of Person Dealing with Doubts

Threats to certainty include:

  • Change
  • Lack of plans
  • Unclear expectations

Certainty can be increased by:

  • Clarifying outcomes and tradeoffs
  • Confirming agendas, decisions, and outcomes
  • Supplying more details

Autonomy

Illustration of Pawn on Chess Board Being Told What To Do

Autonomy is our sense of having choices and control.

Threats to autonomy include:

  • Someone overly involved in your work
  • Being asked for frequent updates
  • Having to get approval for too many decisions

Autonomy can be increased by:

  • Working at the problem instead of the task level
  • Having flexibility within clear boundaries
  • Control of desk, environment, and working hours

Relatedness

Illustration of a Fly Meeting a Wasp

Relatedness is a feeling that we're among friends and not foes.

Illustration of a Fly Meeting a Wasp

Threats to relatedness include:

  • Big groups of people
  • Business environments with no personal connections
  • Audio-only meetings and interactions

Relatedness can be increased by:

  • Small groups of people
  • Buddy systems, mentoring, learning groups
  • One trusted relationship at work

Fairness

Illustration of a Devil Offering a Contract

Fairness is the perception that interactions are just and equitable for all parties.

Threats to fairness include:

  • Different rules for different people
  • How workloads are shared
  • Not living by stated values

Fairness can be increased by:

  • Transparency
  • Clear expectations, ground rules, and objectives
  • Allowing teams to set their own rules

Thought Questions

Smiling Coach asking you to Please Use Your Brain
  • Reviewing the threat triggers, which ones exist in your workplace or have you seen in your career?
  • Reviewing the reward triggers, which ones exist in your workplace or have you seen in your career?
  • How can your team do more to boost Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness, or Fairness?
Smiling Coach asking you to Please Use Your Brain

Who do you know, love, or tolerate that needs this?

Come in. There's more to learn.