Is your company experiencing poor engagement, performance and retention among your Millennial workforce? You could turn things around if you embrace training that uses the dopamine reward system.
Yes, I’m serious. If you’re responsible for training Millennials, you need to get smart about dopamine.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter released as a response to everyday events like completing tasks, eating and solving problems. Everyone craves these experiences because the reward is addictive and reinforces the behaviors that cause it.
Even if they don’t realize this, Millennials have been trained for job performance because of the way video games use this system. Game designers understand the power and psychology of the dopamine reward system and incorporate it into gameplay, literally making their games more addictive.
As Jamie Madigan writes on Psychology of Games, “Dopamine is a chemical that’s released when we encounter something pleasurable, like a piece of fruit or a Legendary Mighty Weapon for our Barbarian. The chemical is hugely important for learned behavior and motivation to persist in a task, since when it’s released certain brain cells go bananas and make us feel good. Maybe even euphoric.”
Most traditional training programs completely ignore these natural chemical responses. They’re sending a generation addicted to dopamine rewards into a state of withdrawal.
If you want to successfully train Millennials, you need to act like a game designer. (Click here to Tweet this thought.) Build in and reinforce reward systems to produce a dopamine release when you recognize your young employees’ task completion and small wins.
Incorporate these three key principles into your training program to improve your success rate with Millennial employees:
1. Develop a consistent reward system
Every training program needs a process to regularly reinforce your trainees’ progress. This keeps them engaged and moving forward and reinforces the dopamine payoff they’re programed to expect.
At companies I’ve started, we have bonus structures built around clear goals that everyone knows about. Some are easy to attain and some more difficult. This ensures our account executives get the chemical benefits of achieving a goal at a semi-regular pace.
2. Dangle the “pot of gold” reward
Dopamine released at regular, predictable intervals loses its effect. But random drops of rewards maintain and heighten its effects. This is motivating and wires trainees to expect a big reward — they just don’t know when it will happen. A big, random event sends their dopamine production into overdrive. They wonder what they can accomplish to trigger it again.
At all my companies, we play a song to let everyone know someone won the “pot of gold reward.” It gets everyone buzzing. They know it can be for any random accomplishment, such as good phone skills or just a great attitude. And anyone can receive it.
This way, it’s hard to expect not only when you will be rewarded, but also what you’ll be rewarded for. Our employees love it, and it heightens the anticipation and chemical payoff of the reward.
3. Realize generational differences aren’t just chemical; they’re also cultural
Random rewards can certainly produce dopamine for Millennials, but don’t ignore the cultural elements Millennials also find rewarding. A relaxed work environment, new challenges, social engagement and meaningful work that makes a difference also drive these employees. It’s a balance between rewarding ideal behavior and creating a place where your employees want to be.
When my management team was just focusing on company culture, we had happier people who enjoyed the social aspects of our workplace — but it didn’t make them better at their jobs. It takes a combination of both approaches to improve performance and retention.
As a manager, you can decide to ignore this concept, but you’d be doing your employees and your company a disservice. You have the responsibility to help your employees reach their full potential and not waste their time or yours. By understanding and tailoring your training to how your employees are wired, you can better help them be successful.
Bobby Campbell is a successful entrepreneur with a deep understanding of how to monetize emerging digital markets. He’s CEO and founder of several leading digital media companies, including 3 Interactive, AdKarma and Division D.