Dopamine is the neurotransmitter associated with pleasure. Anything that produces a positive response in a human being stimulates the release of dopamine in the brain. This positive feeling also creates the anticipation of pleasure the next time the stimulus is introduced, and establishes a biofeedback reward system.
Dopamine is also what makes us make us more likely to opt for instant gratification, rather than waiting for a more beneficial reward. For example indulging in the chocolate cake the day after you have resolved to go on a diet, or buying the latest I phone on day one of the release instead of waiting for prices to go down.
Low levels of dopamine are indicated with a wide variety of diseases and disorders like simple anxiety to depression, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
Leaders are often faced with a challenge of building an engaged workforce. It is not about the Annual Review “pat on the back” – but it is about continuous reinforcement of strengths and employee contribution that helps an employee feel that someone “cares” for them and their careers. A leader, who is seen as nurturing, often goes a long way. Dopamine is a very real human need, people at the workplace need to feel that the organization is invested in them and their careers. Gallup research says “Employees who report they're not adequately recognized at work are three times more likely to say they'll quit in the next year”
The question is how do you keep dopamine levels of your employee at a level that they come into work every morning feeling excited about the next contribution they will make? One strategy that has been used in my organization is Job Sculpting. It is a very personalized way of extending your current job to have assignments and deliverables that play to ones optimal skill and challenge levels. These assignments are reviewed periodically and rewarded based on the goals achieved.
It’s therefore important that leaders continuously think of ways to keep employee dopamine levels at the optimal- including unexpected rewards (that creates a bigger dopamine rush)to build a very committed and engaged workforce.
Kalpana Sinha is a Leadership and Organisation Professional. Her blog has reflections from her work experiences of over 20 years.