Are Happy Brains Productive Brains?
The brain is a fascinating organ and one that stimulates interest wherever I go. 100 billion neurons (brain cells) with at least 100 trillion synapses (connections between the neurons) - that is a conservative estimate. If each brain cell were the size of an M&M that would make it a cube 100 km3. These neurons have different specializations and are grouped into various regions and structures:
we have parts of the brain that deal with short-tem memory, identification of faces, speaking, movement, visual input, rhythm in music and speech and so on and so forth. But in its huge complexity it is still considered the last frontier - Alzheimer’s still defies explanation as do many other constructs not to mention personality and the host of chemicals controlling action and reaction. This is why at the start of the year Professor Markham at EPFL received the largest European research grant ever for his Blue Brain Project aimed at virtually reconstructing the brain from a molecular level upwards.
The question that you are maybe more interested in is: can knowledge of the brain help us in business? The answer is simple: of course it can. All human behaviour, thought, action and motivation is ultimately driven from the brain and understanding this can give us some powerful tools in business.
Let’s look at a construct that organisational psychologists have studied for decades. "The Happy/Productive Worker" thesis: are happy workers really more productive and should employers bother about employee happiness. The research had been ambiguous for decades with some seeing a positive correlation and others seeing no effect. That is until Wright & Copranzo noted in 1997 that the results were ambiguous because what researchers were measuring was ambiguous. Most studies measure job satisfaction and not well being or happiness – the result: happiness is a strong predictor of productivity as is well being.[caption id="attachment_1652" align="alignleft" width="352"] Dopamine Circuit[/caption]
A look into the brain will explain why. When we look at higher cognitive control and motivation we cannot ignore the neuromodulator dopamine. This is what many attention deficit disorder drugs target, such as Ritalin. Dopamine circulates in the left hemisphere and particularly to what is known as the Prefrontal Cortex. The front of the brain where our "executive functions" sit such as planning, dealing with complexity, emotional regulation and focused attention. Dopamine is, however, not only considered our motivation molecule it is also a happiness molecule – it creates feeling of elation in excessive quantities and some drugs, such as cocaine, directly stimulate the dopamine system. In short dopamine is also a reward and happiness chemical and it is precisely this that the brain needs to feel good but also to keep focused and work for a reward at a later date. That means not only is a happy worker likely to be more productive but to have higher motivation, higher cognitive function and better ability to deal with complexity. That is precisely what most businesses want from employees.
This means that hiring happy people may be a good idea but also to ensure that employees can be happy at work will no doubt affect productivity not to mention less mistakes and better cognitive abilities – the science of the brain shows precisely this. Happy brains are indeed productive brains!
About guest author Andy Habermacher
Andy Habermacher is speaker at the Hays-Forum 2013 in Basel about "Leading 100 Billion Neurons - A Journey Through the Brain for Business Leaders". He is author of Neuroleadership: A Journey Thorugh the Brain for Business Leaders, Certified Master Coach, leadership development expert and professional speaker on the brain and business. He is considered an international expert on the brain and leadership and is recent work and research focuses on the brain and emotional needs in the workplace. He is founder of leading brains which is an information platform for the brain and also an academy to learn how to implement brain science in business, HR and coaching.