The Chemistry of Employee Retention and Engagement

chemistryIn the January 2013 issue of Go Magazine, I read an article by Helen Fisher that caught my attention.  Ms. Fisher, author of The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love stated, “Your partner might not look so great at the breakfast table for the tenth year in a row, but if you see her on a seat in Mexico City, she’ll look amazing.”  The point is, that if you see a person in a different, more exotic locale, it can increase dopamine levels in the brain which cause you to feel happier and more satisfied with that person.

While the workplace is not about romance, it absolutely needs chemistry to keep employees engaged and on the job.  For companies or departments with low turnover over many years, you may begin to experience loss of creativity or engagement with the job, resulting in loss in revenue.  I wonder if we’ve run into a similar situation as the married couple that no longer finds each other as attractive.

Now, think back to those first few weeks or months on a new job, or of someone new joining your team.  Remember the feelings of:

  • excitement of meeting and working with new people
  • having your senses piqued by a new office or cubicle and new work “neighbors”
  • A jolt of energy from using your skills in a new and exciting way or having a team member who is ready to take on any challenge

See, much like romance, some of the same sensory perceptions are surely tapped with a new job.  The dopamine levels likely skyrocket during this time.  So, what happens over time?  Well, what is the old saying about familiarity breeding contempt?  If my line of thinking is correct, then the solution to employee engagement and  retention is variety and finding ways to keep creating opportunities to raise dopamine levels.

Variety and wellness?

Yes.  Chew on that.  Roll it around in your head a bit.  Are you, or your leaders, doing all you can to add those components?  Whether employee or leader driven, it seems that a major overhaul in location, job duties, or colleagues could be the variety and dopamine generator needed to drive higher creativity, optimism and yes, engagement.  Have team members switch desks.  Change up the job duties once a year.

But what if you can’t make a major change?  This brings me to your challenge.  What small efforts can a leader make to drive small dopamine increases?

  • Provide foods rich in dopamine like fruit.  A weekly fruit basket would be an inexpensive approach and fruit like bananas, blueberries and strawberries increase dopamine levels naturally.
  • Protein has an amino acid needed to stimulate dopamine production.  This means that having healthy, high-protein snacks available for employees can help the positive effects.
  • Encourage time to have physical activity.  Provide a wii, encourage employees to hit the gym before work or during lunch, or create a walking or workout challenge.

What if you can’t make all those changes in the workplace?  Well, start with you.  Start making the changes in your own lifestyle and gradually spread the good habits at work.