SCARF it up for workplace productivity and engagement

Social Neuroscience and the SCARF Model indicates Fairness is Important in the Workplace.

Thanks to Erika Deines for sharing the SCARF model with our Workplace Fairness Luncheon group. David Rock is a leading neuroscience practitioner.  The SCARF model builds on the understanding that the brain is focused on increasing or sustaining reward and avoiding negative experiences (threats). This focus on reward and threats drives behaviors in the workplace. Negativity, irrational behavior and conflict isn’t just something that makes our jobs uncomfortable, it is a real cost to business in the emotional toll it takes in our working environment. It translates to lost time due to a lack of engagement leading to lower productivity, increased time spent by human resources and others who end up dealing with these issues.

Here are the five areas of social response that each of us need in the workplace to ensure we are not feeling threatened:


Status – are we comfortable with our relative importance to others?
Our sense of worth. Our sense of where we fit into the hierarchy at work both socially and organizationally

David Rock, SCARF

Every workplace benefits from status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness and fairness

Certainty –are we able to predict the future?
Clarity around tasks, clarity around people and how people communicate is more important than we realize. When we are asked to complete tasks or be involved in situations where we don’t have certainty about process or what the persons expects from us, it increases our stress levels dramatically and impairs our ability to be able to make effective balanced decisions.

Autonomy – do we have a sense of control over events?
Our need to feel safe in our abilities to get our job done competently without overt interference enhances our productivity, our engagement, our effectiveness and our accuracy. Lack of autonomy can be processed as a threat situation and hence will promote stress and its negative implications in the brain.

Relatedness – do we feel a sense of safety with others?
The social wiring in our brains means that we form social groups and build relationships. These groups build mutual trust and form a barrier against the unknown. These feelings and the interpersonal bonding promote the production of oxytocin, the trust and bonding hormone, which increases the positive feeling of trust and stabilizes these relationships.

Fairness – do we see our exchanges between others as fair?
Unfairness stimulates a strong emotional reaction in the brain, an automatic defense mechanism. This feeling of unfairness can unintentionally be promoted in organizations through unclear and in-transparent communication. When we experience a strong unfairness threat we can quite often respond in a way that either exacerbates the situation or attempts to avoid the threat.

Knowing about the drivers that can activate a reward response enables people to motivate others more effectively by tapping into internal rewards and reducing reliance on external rewards such as money. SCARF points to more creative ways to reward others that are stronger and more sustainable. It also assists us to become more self-aware of what our negative experiences (threats) are and aid in our ability to self-manage.

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