“Happy Chemicals” at Work
Happy people don’t leave organizations. Why? Because they enjoy what they’re doing with others who value what they bring to the table. How is that relevant to the company? Because literally billions of dollars are lost annually from attrition, gatekeeper recruiter time, interview travel costs, relocation expenses, learning curve/training time, cultural assimilation, possible visas/attorney fees, loss of productivity, and further fallout from the change of talent. Has your company ever measured the cost of poor organizational health? If not, be prepared that today’s talent is checking organizational culture reviews on Glassdoor before they even apply or accept interviews.
So, what is happening internally which causes people to stay? Some companies (surprisingly) still believe it is about the money, despite several studies indicating the contrary. Scientists across several fields of study concur that human beings strive for homeostasis, i.e. a balance, which helps us feel safe. While we can be motivated by fear, our strong preference over “fight or flight” is to dwell and enjoy. The four chemicals that our bodies physiologically produce when we enjoy our environment and the variables within it are the following: Dopamine, Endorphin, Oxytocin, and Serotonin.
OFFICE YIN YANG
The SELFISH chemicals are dopamine and the endorphins. They get us to where we need to go as individuals. The SELFLESS chemicals are oxytocin and serotonin. They get us to work together and develop feelings of trust and loyalty. If only one side dominates, your organization has either chaos or stagnancy. The balance of selfish and selfless chemicals is one of the successful CEO’s primary tasks.
Let’s examine each one:
Dopamine – DOMINANCE. This is the Incentive for progress. The positive is it enables us to set goals, focus, and achieve. For those who like “the chase” and the cave man feeling of “conquest,” they have to monitor a possible addiction to dopamine. How does your organizational culture promote win-win goals?
Endorphins – ENDURANCE. These mask physical pain. They are released during a “runner’s high” and when your stomach is contracting strongly during a good laugh. Imagine: It is impossible to simultaneously laugh and be afraid. What keeps your office smiling?
Oxytocin – AFFECTION. This forms bonds of love and trust. Oxytocin is produced through acts of service, sacrifice, and selflessness on behalf of others. Organizational cultures which implement these behaviors into a daily practice have a high chance of pre-empting the emergence of toxicity in the workplace.
Not only does oxytocin keep us healthy (no sick days), they make us better problem solvers. It is #10 on the Gallup Q12: “I have a best friend at work.” This means someone who we can trust as an ally. This chemical makes it more about “us,” instead of the addictive quality of “me” that dopamine fulfills. When we share joint challenges, our bodies release oxytocin, which forms bonds. Leaders must offer talent a reason to grow.
Serotonin – PRIDE. It’s the feeling of pride and leadership. Serotonin is produced when those we lead in the workplace develop into more skilled professionals under our guidance. True leaders are supportive and do not undermine their direct reports. (Managers do).
Serotonin only exists in symbiotic relationships – each person feels like s/he is gaining a benefit from their association. Much like Confucianism’s five bonds (father to son, elder brother to younger, husband to wife, ruler to ruled, friend to friend), a burst of serotonin provides the feeling that others like or respect us. This is why time is allowed to each Oscar winner at the Academy Awards, before the symphony plays them off stage…the winner feels like s/he couldn’t have accomplished what they did without the support from others.
CHEMICAL IMBALANCE IN THE WORKPLACE
When I was young, I was told “stress will kill you.” This never made much sense to me until more recently. Cortisol is the chemical that is produced by our bodies when our workplace offers a constant state of fear and/or anxiety. This chemical, cortisol, has the potential to reconfigure our internal systems, cause lasting damage, and shorten our lives. One of my clients ended up in the emergency room, only to be told by her doctor that she was experiencing work-related stress. She had an interim boss who was a corporate bully. He did not recognize that fear and/or lack of homeostasis inhibit(s) productivity.
For our own health reasons, we must never accept toxic environments, whether they be inside or outside of the workplace. Do not attempt to fool yourself that you can become accustomed to the stress. Low, regular levels of stress (i.e. cortisol) can no only break down our internal organs, it can activate dormant cancer cells.
What constitutes a toxic workplace? Basically, values which are not being supported from the top-down. Author Simon Sinek: “Hypocrites, liars, and self-interested leaders create culture filled with hypocrites, liars and self-interested employees. The leaders of companies who tell the truth, in contrast will create a culture of people who tell the truth. It’s not rocket science. We follow the leader.”
Mimicry begins in infancy. Leaders know when to make it stop, and that includes you – know when to walk away from those who have a toxic abundance.
Rossina Gil, MSOD, MAIS, is a Global Leadership and Organization Development Practitioner, and the founder of Corporate Looking Glass, LLC – a diverse consultancy of OD experts and strategic thinking partners. She is the author of The Corporate Looking Glass: Using Culture for Your Competitive Advantage. We increase retention. Visit CorporateLookingGlass.com.
Loretta Graziano Breuning, Ph.D. Habits of a Happy Brain
Simon Sinek. Leaders Eat Last