Human Resources Management

It's all about the dopamine

What neuroscience can teach us about workplace reward.

If you’ve ever downloaded one of the many fitness apps available which record steps taken, calories eaten, and in some cases even how well you sleep, you’ll be familiar with the relationship between behaviour and reward.

Every alert that tells us we’ve run further, or done more steps, lights up an emotional response in our brains, acting as a reward to spur us on to greater things.

Neuroscientists believe that what we know about the link between the brain and reward can be applied in the sphere of learning at work. But simply offering a financial reward for good recall or having completed a piece of learning won’t provide the same effect.

According to Beau Lotto, a reader in neuroscience at Universty College London, organisations where learning is most effective “create the most uncertainty”, and one of the best ways to do that is through making learning more like a game. “Play is the only human endeavour where uncertainty is a good thing,” he says.

And while there is a growing buzz around “gamification” and learning – it’s not always about games per se. Taking elements of games (challenges, leaderboards, badges, teams) into a learning environment can make a difference.

“Emotional engagement increases depth and breadth of learning,” says Nigel Paine, a learning consultant and author. “If you ‘gamify’ learning it’s not one long, boring, endless process. It’s up and down, it’s more exciting and challenging.”

Ben Betts, a learning technology entrepreneur and researcher for the University of Warwick, says small, intermittent rewards can fuel motivation among learners. “Often the learning journey is long-term; working towards a masters or a professional qualification, say. But that can be so intangible as to be meaningless. Organisations need to think about little rewards along the way that are more tangible and give instant reward.”

Reward can come in the form of recognition, league tables, or a progress bar on the intranet to show how far someone has come in terms of their learning goals.

Taken from People Management April 2014 pp61-62 with the permission of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, London - Visit here

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