February 13, 2017
More and more employers, especially big corporates, are looking at ways to improve employee satisfaction, creativity and productivity. The business of managing change in the workplace has received much attention. It’s a clever game, and one that’s fuelling a booming growth in neuroscientific consulting. Coaching staff to embrace change and think about personal growth, alongside individualised learning programmes are hot topics in the business world. Brain science is a growth industry and it’s providing interesting answers to many important questions about why affecting change in the workplace has historically suffered low success rates, and how that can change.
We keep hearing the buzz phrase in neuroscientific circles, ‘old dogs can learn new tricks’, but what exactly does that mean, and how can employees embrace this learning opportunity? It’s a commonly held fact that we don’t like change. That’s because we easily default to subconscious behaviours. It was once believed that the brain’s network became fixed as we aged. We now know that the brain continually adapts. The capacity for the brain’s pathways to change with learning, or repair after injury is known as neuroplasticity.
Neuroplasticity is essentially the ability for the brain to rewire itself. Physiological changes in the brain can occur as a result of our environment. Neural pathways in the brain really are changed by our experiences. We are what we think and do, and connections between cells in the brain can re-organise if new things we do are repeated frequently enough. Important information is transferred from short term memory to long term memory and is retained. Plasticity becomes less easy as we age, but it still happens.
What does neuroplasticity mean for our learning habits?
Brain science reveals that new neuron pathways are key to developing new behaviours. We know that it’s possible to create new neuron pathways. Recovery from stroke and injury, overcoming depression, addictions and behavioural problems are all indications that our brain can change and adapt. Research into the neuroscientific field of managing change in the workplace looks at how we learn. There are prerequisites for reshaping behaviour. The subject needs to feel motivated and focused. Change requires effort. The biggest challenge for employers is to engage employees in that process. Repetition and practice strengthens neural pathways. Neuroscientific coaches are using training techniques that factor in neuroplasticity function, including aspects of repetition, and the brain’s reward pathway.
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), meditation and mindfulness
CBT, meditation and mindfulness are increasingly being recognised as having the capacity to encourage neuroplasticity. Utilising new pathways in the brain happens through repetition, which is why CBT and the repeated practice of engagement and stillness in both mindfulness and meditation successfully allow us to change thought processes and behavioural patterns. It’s a case of east meets west. Neuroscience is providing answers as to why some of the spiritual practices of the East really do contribute to personal happiness and fulfilment.
As employers try harder to ensure their employees are contributing to successful change, the switch in managerial formats are creating better opportunities for staff to feel included. While the benefits of brain storming and social interaction in the training classroom cannot be ignored, individualised training programmes are of equal merit giving the learner greater control over when and how they progress. Giving employees greater awareness of their learning processes is working. Personal development in the workplace is bound to get positive results, and not just for employers. For individuals it’s an opportunity to change the mind for the better. We’re opening up all sorts of possibilities when we rewire hardwired negativity. Rick Hanson Ph.D., psychologist and New York Times best-selling author writes extensively on ‘hardwiring happiness’ and ‘sensitising the brain to positive experience’.
We spend at least one third of our lifetime working, that’s 25-30 years according to the average life span (79.1 years for a male and 82.8 years for a female according to a study by the UK’s Office of National Statistics in 2015). So, as individuals isn’t it time we took the cue from big business? It is high time workers woke up and smelt the coffee, so to speak. There’s an opportunity here for employees to utilise new training approaches to proliferate self-happiness and well-being. The workplace could be the place to start addressing personal issues like anxiety, anger or loneliness.
It all comes down to employee satisfaction and happiness, and that’s both in and outside of the workplace. Big business is cottoning on. Whatever the motives of big business, isn’t it high time employees recognise what’s on offer?
Mike James is an independent writer, partnering with London office space specialist Stuart Neils.