Is This The Dark Matter of Workplace Culture?

What makes one company more successful than another? Is a committed motivated workforce a differentiator between two competing firms? Damn right it is. Gallup’s Workforce Survey records that 8% of the UK workforce is engaged at work – with twice that number being actively disengaged in their jobs. If we could get those people to care about their colleagues and their work then improved success awaits.

Seeking the special sauce that unlocks this discretionary effort psychologists find themselves studying what makes people more connected to each other. And there seems to be a dark matter that lies at the heart of us feeling bonded to others – let’s call it Sync. Sync is a hard to replicate connection that by triggering higher endorphin levels builds teamwork and makes us more resilient.

Firstly let’s go in search of where we find Sync. Because it’s hard to measure endorphin levels, we measure the secondary effects of higher endorphins. One of the things that researchers have found is that when we have higher endorphin levels we’re more able to withstand pain. This means that scientists have become used to inflicting hurt on subjects to see how happy they are. Normally this involves putting an inflatable cuff around the top of someone’s arm and seeing how much pressure they can tolerate. Now with a method of measuring endorphins we can set about creating Sync.

Researchers put Oxford University rowers into teams to train together. They found that those who rowed together in a ‘virtual boat’ (that required them to be in time with each other) were able to withstand twice the pain of those who rowed comparably hard but alone. Being in Sync with others created massive doses of endorphins that made the team able to become more resilient. But it’s not just in boats that we see Sync. Dancing together with others has exactly the same effect. And singing in a choir.  

So why does this matter? Because – in the choir case for example – the researchers found that being Sync (even with strangers) built a sense of collaboration and teamwork. It made people in the choir feel more engaged… That’s the same engagement in short supply in modern workplaces.

So now having identified that Sync is the dark matter of modern offices what can we do? I know what you’re thinking ‘no amount of science is going to get Diane in accounts dancing’. Finding ways to unlock Sync is the secret to modern workplace culture. The good news is that psychologists have found several things that trigger endorphins to these levels. Professor Robin Dunbar has observed that ‘mutual grooming’ in animals seems to have this effect, and the good news is that in humans a similar boost is activated by workplace laughter. And often workplace laughter isn’t dependent on hilarious jokes – research has suggested we laugh more merely by being together. While searching for the elusive secrets of greater success, finding ways to get your team laughing might be the way to unlock the Dark Matter of work.

For 8 scientifcally proven ways to build Sync read more in The Joy Of Work.