In our last post we went over how the work environment, and how our leaders communicate impact our feelings – through the chemicals we create:

When people are stressed, we have heightened levels of Cortisol.   Which is not meant to be in our system for a long time.    If we think that our co-workers will stab us in the back, or we will get in trouble if we try something that doesn’t work, we have high levels of cortisol.  Can also happen if we feel the “media hype” or worry about the future of the company.

Since our bodies are built for survival, we become accustomed and we adapt.  Though that doesn’t mean that it’s healthy or sustainable.  It’s like how hikers have to stay at Everest base camp for a while to get accustomed – but if they stay long term, their organs will fail.

Feeling threatened takes lots of energy.  So our body turns off non-essential functions:  Immune system, digestion, growth.  Can lead to diabetes, cancer, and other diseases.   Interestingly, Oxytocin actually boosts immune system.

Staying in this heightened state of Cortisol is VERY unhealthy.   Our jobs are literally killing us.

Quality corporate cultures can fix this.  When leaders tell the truth, layoffs are not the norm in hard times, and incentive structures don’t put us against each other.  THIS is what “work life balance” means.

When we feel safe.  If we feel similar levels of happiness and comfort (oxytocin and serotonin) at home and work –  THAT is balance.  That comes with trust.

When our people are not in the Circle of Safety, they can turn to other vices.   Left uncheck, Alcohol can become a substitute for relying on other people in times of stress and self-doubt.    This is important because how we learn to deal with these anxieties in adolescence is likely how we deal with them in adulthood.    Alcohol, cigarettes, binge eating……     Which is why it’s important to have close family time talking to each other.     These are all dopamine addictions.

This is also what’s happening in our corporations.   Most of our companies’ incentive programs are designed to only provide the new, great dopamine hit.  They are built with only the goal of hitting THIS month/quarter/period’s goal.   So only hitting Dopamine.  No consideration of the other chemicals.

When we were Cavemen:  We prepared for the hunt by imagining the hunt and the rewards it could provide them.   This was the first dopamine hit.   One of the hunters finds clues that there were animals in the area – another shot of dopamine.   One spots a gazelle in the distance – more dopamine as they track it for a couple of hours.   Then as they find the animal, a big dose of adrenaline at the time of the kill.    Dopamine surges from the sense of accomplishment.    They come together and thank their leader, as serotonin courses through their veins.  They slap and congratulate each other for the brotherhood of being out in the muck with each other – fueling the oxytocin.  The oxytocin reinforces their bonds, as they bring the food back to the tribe.   The tribe showers them with praise and adoration – triggering more serotonin.   The tribe feels like people are looking after them, it feels good and builds community

Nowadays, we get a blast of dopamine with each marker we hit on the way to our end goal.   Unfortunately, unlike our ancestors, there aren’t enough actions to balance the other chemicals.  Further they are set up to reward individual accomplishments and short term goals.  Could even directly, or indirectly, pit co-workers against each other.   Undermining the group as a whole.

AOL used to have a division to build subscriptions by offering big upfront incentives (200, 300, 800 free hours).  They were paid on that.   Then they had to create a retention department to try to get them back when they didn’t subscribe.

So, What do we do?:  We are not victims of our situation.  We are the architects of it.

People often say Step 12 of AA is the biggest predicter of success in AA.   Step 12 is helping others achieve success.   AA meetings are always in person, not online.   The whole purpose of AA is to make people feel safe and together.   “Alcohol is like a pack of wolves.  It’s always coming for you.  The brotherhood helps protect you.”    That way you want to stay sober for you – and for them.

In Oxytocin We Trust:   Increased levels of oxytocin has even been shown to reduce withdrawal symptoms in alcohol and heroin users.   Has also shown correlation with preventing dependence to begin with.

Evidence shows that the release of oxytocin from acts of service and selflessness on behalf of others could prevent corporate cultures from becoming toxic in the first place.  It could even help us live longer.   Statistics even show that married people live longer.

When things go wrong at work, on a flight, or throughout life, we generally look to others around us to talk about it.   Makes us feel like we have someone on our side.

This is further proof of why YOU need to create a Circle of Safety at work.   Not only does it promote people to work together and better – it will help them live healthier and longer.



Today’s post is largely from the great book “Leaders Eat Last” by Simon Sinek

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