May kicks off a season of celebrations, with Mother’s Day, Graduations, Weddings and Father’s Day. These events mark happy milestones where we recognize the people who are important in our lives and show them our appreciation. The season can teach companies a few lessons since our work lives don’t have the same built-in reminders to recognize, measure and reward those who make a successful business run. Great leaders know how essential these elements are to creating a fun place to work, and building a drama-free culture of trust and collaboration.
Which means that office birthday cakes serve a purpose long after all the slices are doled out. Celebrations work wonders in the brain and meet people’s needs for inclusion, innovation, appreciation and collaboration. By releasing dopamine and other positive neurotransmitters, positive celebrations and intelligent conversations provide ways to socialize and share information while triggering healthy physical and emotional changes in the brain. In fact, the need for celebration is greater than the need for safety. Feeling socially excluded actually activates some of the same neural regions that are activated in response to physical pain and leads disengaged staffers to physically or emotionally check out.
Such social exclusion can create a vicious cycle. Disengaged employees can seem uncooperative or unreasonable. Their managers, in response, can act counter-productively, avoiding these staffers, talking poorly about them, or passing them to HR ‘to be fixed.’ The tension isn’t relieved until the staffers are fired or decide on their own to quit. In the meantime, everyone involved resigns themselves to low satisfaction and performance.
These negative behaviors signal one thing: that the social and psychological needs that drive performance are not being met. All people have deep-seated needs for meaning, purpose, connection, and inclusion. These are needs that they want—and expect—to fulfill at work. Managers and staffers need to feel connected to each other and included in the decisions that impact their jobs. They also need to feel appreciated for their hard work and achievements and challenged to take risks.
Celebrating is just another way to build connections, leveraging social and psychological needs to fuel growth and productivity. Make it part of your culture to publicly recognize and thank coworkers for their contributions. Set milestones that bring groups together to work toward goals they can feel good about achieving. Make it easy for colleagues to know each other, either through happy hours or a break room designed for conversation. Celebrate the meeting of a need, and you can expect this need to become increasingly met going forward; fail to celebrate the meeting of a need and expect demoralization.