NeuroFood for Thought: Organisations are asking more of their people

Last week we briefly explored the rise of Neuroscience in our People, Process and Performance industry and summarily mentioned 3 common areas of challenge for organisations in the current global climate:

  1. Organisations are asking more of their people.
  2. Organisations are asking different skills of their leaders.
  3. Organisations are experiencing an alarming rate of employee disengagement.










Image source: Work Tree Consulting


This week we look a little more closely at the topic, Organisations are asking more of their people.

Organisations are asking more of their people, generally seeking:

  • Increased productivity with less people;
  • More innovation with less budget;
  • Smarter decisions with less time, particularly during times of significant organisational change.

Our brains need near-perfect conditions to be able to perform at high levels for sustained periods of time, and these conditions are not always easy to find in the workplace, particularly in situations where people are feeling under more stress with pressures to perform.

The reality of our work day is that we do need levels of ‘good’ stress in order to be motivated and productive i.e., aroused. When we go home feeling energised after a great day, we generally have been involved in the types of activities we love to do and from which we naturally derive energy. Some term this as being ‘in flow’; time disappears as we are completely engrossed in tasks or activities for which we are naturally wired.


Image source: Medibank Private Research 2008, The Cost of Workplace Stress


It is not always possible to do the work we love doing all of the time. Frequently our work is a mixture of the activities we both love and others we enthusiastically avoid! When we spend a day completing work we prefer to avoid or at least leave to the last minute, we head home feeling tired and lethargic. It simply takes more energy to do activities we don’t enjoy!



Workplace Stress

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), in a publication by Stavroula Leka, Pr Amanda Griffiths, Pr Tom Cox called Protecting Workers’ Health Series No. 3, Work organization and stress workplace stress is the response people may experience when presented with work demands and pressures that are not matched to their knowledge and abilities and which challenge their ability to cope. In the article Assessing the Economic Impact of Stress—The Modern Day Hidden Epidemic by Madhu Kalia, 2002, it is described as an emotional experience associated with nervousness, tension and strain, brought about by factors related to work.

In August 2008, Medibank Private released their latest research, The Cost of Workplace Stress.


Image and information from article: Medibank Private Research 2008, The Cost of Workplace Stress.


In September 2012, Regus released the following results from a global survey of more than 16,000 employees. From one survey in 2011 and a follow-up in 2012, almost half reported an increase in work related stress:

Regus2012_GlobalStressWhitepaperByCountry         Regus2012_GlobalStressWhitepaper

Images and Information source: Regus, Sept 2012 From Distressed to De-Stressed

Employees rated their jobs as their highest cause of stress.


Workplace stress through a Neuroscience lens

We know change is a major catalyst for workplace stress. We also know there are factors external to the work environment that will impinge on personal levels of stress – and these also may have an effect in the workplace. However, for the purposes of this topic, when people are under work related stress, the brain science tells us, in very simplistic terms:

– Fear and threats rise;

– Uncertainty becomes the stable environment;

– The brain switches into survival mode (Fight, Flight or Freeze);

– The brain lacks the required signals to ensure the individual’s safety, so it remains on alert;