Humans make relationships harder than they need to be. At our very core, we crave only three things (after food, shelter, and good Wi-Fi service):

  • To feel safe. "I can take risks and not be demoralized or penalized."
  • To feel like we belong. "These are my people. This is my tribe."
  • To feel like we matter. "Is the work that I am doing meaningful to my organization? Am I making a dent in the universe?"

That's it. These are the three things we need to declare complete devotion to another person, cause, or organization.

So why do we so often fail to inspire these feelings in those we need?

According to neuroscience expert Christine Comaford, author of the New York Times Bestseller Smart Tribes: How Teams Become Brilliant Together, we know that 90 percent of our behaviors are driven by our emotional brain. Our intellect controls only 10 percent of our decision making.

Our three brains

Inside our brain, we have three separate brains (stay with me here), as explained by Dr. Joe Dispenza:

  • Our reptilian brain, which is located in our brain stem. This brain governs our physical safety. There is no processing that is focused on quality of life. It registers, "Am I dead or not dead?" That is the extent of the reptilian brain. It's all about safety and survival.
  • Our paleo-mammalian brain, which is our limbic system. This brain governs our emotional and motivational systems. It also regulates our internal chemicals and determines how we respond to stimuli. This is where our protective, maternal instinct forms. We can stimulate our limbic system to increase productivity with specific music and fragrances.
  • Our neo-mammalian brain, which resides in the neocortex. It's the newest and most evolved part of our brain. This is where our higher reasoning and logic originates. We take in information via sight, sound, and touch, and the neocortex determines what that information means for us.

When we create an environment in which there is no trust (often due to poor communication), our neocortex shuts off and we go into what is known as Critter State.

This is common organizational behavior. Such employees are constantly in a "WII-FM" state of mind: What's In It For Me? They lack a fundamental feeling of safety.

Assessing your organization's safety, belonging, and mattering

Christine has developed a Safety, Belonging, and Mattering Index. Organizations can have their employees complete this questionnaire to gain an understanding of how safe employees feel at work. Here are the true-or-false questions:

  1. It is safe to try new approaches, to innovate, to be vulnerable, to share my ideas at work.
  2. When I make a mistake, I am corrected with respect, and the desire to help me improve.
  3. I have the tools and resources necessary to perform my work to the best of my ability.
  4. I understand the expectations of me and my performance.
  5. I trust my team members and colleagues to support my and the company's success.
  6. I am motivated by, and find meaning in, the company's mission, vision, and values.
  7. I receive acknowledgement and appreciation at work.
  8. I have a career development path that the company supports.
  9. I feel I matter to the company. I am making a difference here.
  10. Would you refer your friends to work at your company?

When we create safe environments, our brains access all three separate brains, and switch from Critter State to Smart State. It is proven that a Smart State results in team performance that includes strong communications, energy management, collaboration, and alignment of purpose.

The ROI of a smart state

In her book, Christine demonstrates how the Smart State yields:

  • Sales that close up to 50 percent faster
  • Team member productivity that increases 35 to 50 percent
  • Team member emotional engagement, loyalty, ownership, and focus that increases 67 to 100 percent
  • Revenues and profits that increase up to 201 percent annually
  • Higher productivity and output from fewer employees. Companies don't hire as many people because they get more from the people they have.

Millennials have proven that they require highly collaborative, highly meaningful work environments. They are not going to stick around for a job that leaves them feeling empty.

Employee engagement is one of the most important strategic imperatives of any company. According to research conducted by Inc. columnist Lolly Daskal:

  • Highly engaged employees outperform their disengaged colleagues by 20 to 28 percent. (The Conference Board)
  • Engaged employees generate 40 percent more revenue than disengaged ones. (Hay Group)
  • Of those who are highly engaged, 68 percent believe they can impact costs in their job or unit, versus 19 percent of the disengaged.
  • Engaged employees take an average of nearly 60 percent fewer sick days per year than disengaged employees. (Gallup)
  • Engaged employees are 87 percent less likely to leave the organization than the disengaged. (CEB)

Employee engagement is not rocket science. It's basic brain science.

  • Do I feel safe?
  • Do I matter?
  • Do I belong?

How will your employees answer these questions?