11/22/2020, 1:00 p.m. No time right now?
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Neuroscientist Henning Beck sees companies that promote a culture of fun walking a fine line – between drive and distraction. In order to enjoy work more, monotonous tasks would first have to be automated.
Celebration mood in core working hours and on the weekend already in the mood for the office. What developed into the mantra of the New Economy in the 1990s – hard work, but with fun and among friends – is increasingly being questioned critically today. When does the job attract and not just the environment? Neuroscientist Henning Beck explains in an interview.
t3n: Mr. Beck, what can go wrong from a neurophysiological perspective when companies try to make the work more fun?
Henning Beck: Studies show that having fun tends to distract from what is important. For example, with explanatory videos that include a joke somewhere, people end up memorizing the joke – but not the actual content.
t3n: So is having fun at work counterproductive?
No, it is even crucial for learning and thus improving the job. But you have to be careful what exactly increases the fun. Spicing up boring content with a joke misses the point. Likewise, reward systems often fail at work: companies let games play in between, then it goes back to the serious task. That is not enough because the fun comes from the game, not from the actual activity. At some point, employees only concentrate on receiving the reward instead of improving their performance on the job or coming up with new solutions. This is the so-called “Undermining Effect”.
t3n: What do really attractive tasks look like?
In order for us to have fun in an activity, we need variety: a new challenge or a slightly different framework. These can be projects with other colleagues, but also discussions with customers, which always turn out differently. Good ideas usually come from people who constantly expose themselves to changes and question their own views with interest and humor. Fun becomes the basis for innovation and progress. Only monotony is the killer for a positive, emotionally rewarding and joyful work atmosphere.
“Fun never lasts, it wears out over time.”
t3n: But monotony cannot be completely avoided. At some point we inevitably get bored. Why is that?
Neurophysiology states that fun never lasts, but wears out over time. Because we only feel fun when the level of dopamine that is released exceeds the current level. The difference is crucial. The signals are given by the nerve cells in the brain. These each compare reality with the expectation of the situation – and if it turns out better than expected, we get a feeling of happiness, a positive intoxication, via this additional surge of dopamine.
t3n: In many jobs, constant variety is nothing more than wishful thinking; it is often precisely the repetitive tasks that are the reality.
So it is time for companies to automate the repetitive activities, because they are inhuman. To do this, machine learning systems and artificial intelligence are developed.
And until then, the tasks should at least rotate between different people.
t3n: How can monotony still be combated?
I see working in small groups as an important step. Because fun, a good mood and, above all, laughter usually come about when you work with other people. For example, there has been good experience in companies not only to staff projects with experts, but also to bring in non-specialist employees from other departments: Letting people ask naive questions in an appreciative work environment not only leads to surprising insights, but also to a stronger bond in the Companies. Because everyone involved experiences that their opinion is needed.
t3n: Does it work just as well in virtual teams?
No, not only do we encounter each other differently on the screen, the brain is also less able to retain learned content and experiences if the physical component is missing. A physical meeting is therefore required, at least for the start of new projects or training courses – with analogue notes on post-its or flipcharts. Because the brain links what we have learned to the places where we have learned. This is because the regions of the brain that organize our memory are also the ones that draw mental maps. After the physical start, additions can also be made digitally.