Neuroscience training – the key to reducing employee stress?

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The cut and thrust of the workplace can take its toll on many employees. Is neuroscience training the answer?

When people are confronted with stressful situations their typical reactions can be summarised under three categories.

They can fight the situation, they can run away or they can freeze in paralysis. This is particularly relevant to learning and development, and the workplace where stress is common and often leads to further negative patterns of behaviour, explained Betina Szkudlarek, senior lecturer in management at The University of Sydney Business School.

“Neuroscience can give us insights into our subconscious’ fast response to everyday stress and everyday situations in the workplace that may hinder our performance, and how cognitively you can learn to reprogram yourself and have a response that is more positive,” she said.

“It makes me think about why I overstress and how it impacts my performance, how it generates a negative spiral of behaviours and how it all starts with a very little trigger.”

She added that the knowledge of these processes can make people stop when they are in the moment impacted by that trigger that gives an automatic response. Without that knowledge, they would just fall directly into that negative spiral. 

Moreover, Szkudlarek feels her students are more receptive to neuroscience than they are to psychology because neuroscience is harder linked to cognitive sciences and brain sensory research.

“There is more than just a series of experiments involved and we can really trace the neuro movement in the brain,” she said.

“I think and hope that neuroscience will increasingly have an impact on L&D.”

In particular, she feels that neuroscience is beneficial for leaders to allow them to understand the range of responses and the physical stress that is being placed on the individuals’ brains and bodies.

“I think if we cannot afford to get neuroscience training to all employees, it’s important for the leaders to understand the very basic responses of our bodies and our brains, and how different work situations will get them to manage people much more effectively,” Szkudlarek said.

“This is because it involves not just how the cognitive responses affect you, but also your followers. I think many managers should get that knowledge to understand their own behaviour and how they impact others.”          
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  • Teresa on 2015-11-09 8:58:31 AM

    Who and where is neuroscience training offered?

  • Dr. Marc Hurwitz on 2015-11-09 11:18:16 AM

    The article raises a great question: How do we help our students understand the value of the social science we know underpins HR?

    I am a neuroscientist by training, and a lecturer in leadership/followership/HRM and entrepreneurship.

    While neuroscience holds great promise, the social cognitive neuroscience is far too new a discipline to be taught to students. Most of the 'results' in the field are not easily interpreted, and sometimes even quite wrong.

    Let's wait awhile before replacing good social science with poor neuroscience.

  • Christina Haxton, MA LMFT on 2015-11-10 9:16:13 AM

    Excellent article - I've been teaching online and live workshops for business owners, managers and leaders practical strategies to transform stress and conflict into productivity and trust for many years.

    I teach just enough about how our brain is wired for participants to appreciate the science behind the concepts, but don't believe participants need to be experts in neuroscience to understand and apply the strategies back at work.

    Free resources, articles and information at

    Christina Haxton, MA LMFT
    Chief Potential Officer at Sustainable Leadership, Inc.

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