From Labor to Human Beings, Why It Pays to Understand What Makes Your People Tick

by Kathleen Gramzay

Labor. Workers. Assets. Human resources. Human capital. Employees. Associates. Team members.

These terms reflect the evolution of understanding around the resource that makes business run. For decades, the terms were one-dimensional, referring to the single aspect employers cared about: getting products made and delivered. Early management view of labor was simple: Clock in, do your job and clock out, with very little thought or interest beyond that.

Over time, successful businesses have demonstrated that developing and engaging the unique talents, perspectives and experience of their employees has resulted in innovations, efficiencies and greater profits. It’s not news that success comes through the collaboration of teams of people directed and focused on the goals and mission of a company.

With all that is now known about psychology, motivation and best practices, what makes it so difficult, then, to get people to focus? To be creative? To work together? To follow through with what they say they’re going to do? Or, what happens when a normally harmonious team suddenly finds its members at odds, mistrusting or sabotaging each other?

Answers to those questions lie in the evolution and function of our autonomic nervous system. Located in the brain stem connecting to the cranial nerve of the head and face and down to the heart, liver and gut, it is the central communication system between the brain and body known as the “mind/body connection.”

Considering that every human being operates through the autonomic nervous system’s automatic influence, it’s quite valuable to have at least a fundamental understanding of how it works.

The job of the autonomic nervous system is to scan the environment and those we interact with for signs of safety or threat, and respond accordingly.

If safety is detected, all is well with the mind and body. The “growth, restoration and social engagement” side of the nervous system is working. The mind is calm, clear and focused; the body relaxed and flexible; the immune and digestive systems functioning. Social engagement is positive and collaborative.

If a threat is detected, the “emergency side” of the nervous system kicks in. The options here are fight, flight or freeze. Think of “fight or flight” as mobilized fear and “freeze” as immobilized fear. Social engagement is either negative in the former or non-existent in the latter.

A common belief is that when the brain senses danger or threat, it sends a signal to the body to react. However, science has proven that “neuroreception” — sensory detection in the body — happens first, which then sends signals to the brain.

For example, if you’ve ever had a gut intuitional feeling walking into a room of people or turning a corner peering into a dark alley, you can thank your neuroreceptors for starting the communication. The key understanding is that what your mind decided to do in that millisecond was an automatic response. What’s more interesting is that reaction is personal to you and your own personal experience of those scenarios.

If the feeling you received from your mind and body was safety, all was well. You could continue and engage in a focused, healthy state of mind with your heart and breath continuing at a normal rate. If, however, you perceived a threat, without your awareness or control your nervous system switched to survival mode of fight, flight or freeze.

Obviously, this emergency side of the nervous system is fundamental to human existence. Being able to fight or run from a physical threat has helped humans to remain on the planet. “Freeze,” the oldest aspect, is the default option when fighting or fleeing is not possible. It is nature’s provision in cases of unavoidable threat or trauma.

Today’s “predators” are fears relating to economic stability, job stability, perceptions of relationship safety, health issues or stress that can show up in the work environment as discord, anxiety and overwhelm.

Despite other human advances, the neurological need for the feeling of safety is still predominant in determining how people react and interact with each other in business, in personal relationships and in the healthy or unhealthy coping mechanisms they choose.

Having a greater understanding of what makes your people tick is a step forward. Giving them the tools to partner with the “body-mind” to switch the nervous system from emergency back to growth, restoration and social engagement is another evolutional step in human development and collaborative possibility.

Kathleen Gramzay and Kinessage LLC are dedicated to providing wellness conscious businesses with empowering innovative self-care solutions for absenteeism, presenteeism, and escalating healthcare and worker’s comp costs. Kinessage® Self-Care live and virtual training programs teach employees how to reset and direct the power of their own body/mind to regulate stress, and release chronic muscular tension and pain for increased mental clarity and productivity, and healthier, more joyful lives.

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