Employers are always interested in ways to motivate their workforce. Productivity is the key to higher revenue after all. So, they turn to neuroscientists to learn what works best to keep workers motivated. When trying to motivate workers, it was originally thought that closely monitoring their work or raising wages was the key. It was then discovered that the reward was not the only reason employees worked harder.

Now, neuroscientists are looking deeper into the role of dopamine. In 2012, Vanderbilt University researchers discovered that dopamine not only plays a role in positive motivation but negative motivation as well. Dopamine is associated with the reward system of the brain. While this is the case, it also influences aversion and stress. How this neurotransmitter is released and where it’s concentrated in the brain is what influences motivation or aversion.

Better Workers and Dopamine

The research on how dopamine works give an idea of the cerebral differences between high achievers and low achievers. Those findings will lead to a real-world application to encourage higher productivity.

The approach is entirely dependent on the individual and how they respond to stimuli. While wages or close monitoring works for some individuals, an approach that encourages dopamine balance and production in the brain might work for others. Employers can implement a strategy to motivate their workers by determining what drives each of them. This includes the drive to acquire, defend, learn or bond.

Another suggestion is David Rock’s SCARF model. Broken down, this means the status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness, and fairness. With this model, employees are a part of a system and thrive on their role.

Tasks and Exercises

In a Forbes article, Dr. Sydney Ceruto suggested setting small goals can encourage positive dopamine effects. Setting big goals can create aversion without smaller, achievable goals, which are more manageable. Smaller goals create easy to reach milestones. With each goal achieved, the positive dopamine effect is stronger, the rewards are more frequent.

Then, she suggests working on the framing of a situation. Instead of focusing on what has to be done, finding purpose in the work decreases stress and encourages motivation for the task. Also, training the brain to think in a motivating way can improve the dopamine effect. By using “I am” over “I feel” statements, a worker can create a stronger association with motivation.

As the motivation and dopamine relationship becomes clearer, employers can find the best way to implement strategies to encourage productivity. Each worker is different and how well they respond is entirely determined by their individual needs.