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Maximizing The Power Of The Social Brain Within The Hybrid Workplace

Written by: Patricia Faust, MGS, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

 

It is incumbent upon leadership that they understand the underpinnings of brain function. Knowledge of the role of the social brain in the workplace can make or break the corporate culture. To complicate this, even more, the desire for work-at-home options among employees can complicate the cohesiveness of a functioning workplace. How does the social brain play such an important role in creating a successful workplace?

Hybrid Working Future sign in front of city skyscrapers.

The brain is a social organ. We are all born to connect. This hardwiring has been passed down to us from our prehistoric ancestors. Because this is an innate need, leadership must understand how to make it work for their organization. Hybrid work has thrown another monkey wrench into the mix. Although hybrid work can offer much flexibility to employees, the costs may outweigh the benefits if not handled properly.


If employees are just task-oriented, they tend to isolate themselves from their work peers. Getting the job done doesn’t communicate with the culture. Ineffective communication and loneliness are two common consequences of the hybrid work context. As the brain is big on ‘use it or lose it you stand to lose critical social brain functions if you stop being socially intelligent. (Srini Pillay, M.D., Performance Management)


The brain comes complete with many social functions, such as Mirror neurons. Networks of mirror neurons mirror the emotions of others, resulting in the development of empathy. Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. It is a crucial skill to create a cohesive environment by developing networks to understand the intentions of others so that we can negotiate effectively, learn ways to remember the faces and characteristics of others, and be aware of the cultural impact that individuals bring to an organization. Leaders who realize the power of mirror neurons can create an environment where company culture drives success.


Dr. Srini Pillay reports that a recent study explained that there are seven computations that the social brain makes. As with many brain functions, if we do not practice them, these abilities could dwindle.


Social Perception


When at work, it’s important to be able to see teams operating and to identify how people are feeling. This can be an automatic response in the office setting, but in hybrid working conditions, this may be less obvious.


Suggested Action: Develop a way to keep informed about team dynamics and the ‘emotional temperature’ of the team so that you can stay informed.


Social Inferences


Theory of Mind or mentalizing, refers to our ability to infer the hidden mental states of others, such as their beliefs, intentions, and feelings.


Suggested Action: At meetings, you might ask someone to explain another person’s point of view as they see it. We all perceive directives and actions through our experience filter. No two people may acknowledge the same thing on a particular directive.


Social Learning


Social learning allows groups to feel more connected and coherent. By observing, mimicking, and joining forces with others, we boost the capacity of the social brain. Cognitive functioning increases in this environment.


Suggested Action: Set aside specific meetings for cross-domain perspectives with the intention of joining them in the mission and vision of your organization


Social Signaling


We don’t just learn from what people say. We also learn from verbal and nonverbal cues. Turning cameras off in remote workplace meetings may reduce fatigue but also hinders nonverbal communication.


Suggested Action: Dedicate some time for camera-on interactions.


Social Drives


While staying at home might provide you with personal flexibility, those who go to work are developing a different kind of social capital. They are the in-group and could have the advantage for promotions. Personally, social capital can improve brain function as it improves cognitive health and brain structure.


Suggested Action: Stay ‘in the know’ by staying connected with people who are in the office or go in occasionally.


Social Identity


Your identity is formed by your interactions. These aspects of identity are often relative so when you work alone, you can lose sight of your relative significance.


Suggested Action: Ensure that you meet with people who are different from you, even if they don’t fall within your scope of work.


Minimizing Uncertainty


Knowledge of social groups can help you understand employee behavior ‒ those who are likely to stay versus leave, for instance.


Suggested Action: Ask people overtly about this, and how you could help retain them if you so desire. Also, wherever possible, define roles and outline priorities.


(Pillay, S. Optimizing the Social Brain During Hybrid Work)


What kind of skills do you need as a leader to motivate and engage your employees in this new workplace paradigm? The most effective leadership requires understanding emotions, empathy and building relationships. Crossing the hybrid gap with these skills can create higher confidence, improved relationships between employees, and increased productivity.


Resonant Leadership


A study by Case Western University found a relationship between resonance and effective leadership. Being resonant means that a leader is empathetic and has high emotional intelligence. A dissonant style of leadership is more authoritarian and objective.


When managers were asked to think about experiences with resonant leaders, 14 regions of their brains responded. When thinking of dissonant leaders, only six regions of their brains responded. In fact, 11 regions were deactivated when thinking of dissonant leaders.


This means that resonant leaders activate attention, social awareness, and positive relationships in their employees, while dissonant leaders trigger negative emotions, disregard, limited attention, and decreased social awareness. Resonant leadership styles also help build trust through the release of oxytocin in their brains and the brains of others.


Effective leadership starts in the brain. It is as simple as that!


For more info, follow me on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and visit my website!


 

Patricia Faust, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Patricia Faust is a gerontologist specializing in the issues of brain aging, brain health, brain function, and dementia. She has a Master in Gerontological Studies degree from Miami University in Oxford Ohio. Patricia is certified as a brain health coach and received a certification in Neuroscience and Wellness through Dr. Sarah McKay and the Neuroscience Academy.


My Boomer Brain, founded in 2015, is the vehicle that Patricia utilizes to teach, coach, and consult about brain aging, brain health, and brain function. Her newsletter, My Boomer Brain, has international readers from South Africa, Australia, throughout Europe, and Canada.


Patricia’s speaking experience spans the spectrum of audiences as she addresses corporate executives on brain function, regional financial professionals on client diminished capacity, and various senior venues concerning issues around brain aging and brain health.

 

References:


Pillay, S. (Winter, 2022). Optimizing the Social Brain During Hybrid Work. Retrieved from https://trainingindustry.com


The Basis of Leadership Is Born in the Brain: Why Leaders Should Care about Neuroscience. Retrieved from https://gethppy.com/leadership/basis-of-leadership-neuroscience

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