Employees thrive in workplaces that enhance best-practice thinking. Gillian Eadie, co-founder with sister Dr Allison Lamont of Memory Foundation has recently addressed several enterprises about avoiding brain overload; a key element in promoting peak productivity is having a work environment that supports brain health.
A brain-friendly workplace aims to:
- Make recall as easy as possible. People of all ages can hold around seven items in their short-term memory, so a key aim is to have clear, large-print labels and instructions as well as diagrams for work-flow, especially where reading skill levels may not be high. This reduces the need to retain multiple tasks and processes in the memory while also tackling complex new tasks. Encourage the use of To-do lists and IT solutions (along with training in their use). Working in a way that helps reduce brain overload significantly improves productivity.
- Avoid distractions. Memory requires focus so anything that can be done to mute loud music, minimise interruptions and giving clear instructions will improve concentration.
- Provide opportunities to socialise. Sharing ideas in a friendly environment stimulates creativity, enjoyment at work and raises morale.
- Promote opportunities for hearing and vision testing. Information will be more accurately encoded in the memory is it is seen and heard clearly.
- Have healthy snacks available. Nuts, dried fruit, fruit and vegetable platters with hummus and cheese etc are all brain food and provide the vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants needed by the brain.
- Foster an age-inclusive environment. This allows for the free flow of knowledge, training and ‘the way we do things round here.’ Respect engendered through positive communal activities generates confidence, memory performance and even productivity.
- Include ways to exercise. Recent studies indicate that regular exercise boosts brain areas involved in memory and learning. Exercise also reduces stress, anxiety and insomnia which are the enemies of effective memory habits. Encourage a walking meeting with a colleague, use the stairs, or foster walking groups at lunchtime.
- Offer “lunch and learn” training in memory strategies. Understanding how the brain works and the importance of attaching memory traces to information important to you makes a significant difference to the productivity practices of the workplace. Memory traces give the brain multiple ways to recall stored information.
- Practise memory strategies. Memory Foundation has many resources to assist e.g. their two-minute solution for recalling names or locating lost items. https://memory.foundation
- Encourage memory confidence in the workplace. Occasional memory lapses occur at all ages and do not mean cognitive decline. Linking memory lapses to a worker’s age betrays an unfair, unfounded prejudice and is also a form of bullying which can easily undermine the older worker.
- Promote positive beliefs about ageing. A study in the USA discovered that thinking positively about ageing significantly reduced the risk of cognitive decline even for individuals with one of the strongest genetic risk factors.
In today’s technology-driven environment, brain health is a critical factor in success and productivity. Helping employees to produce their best performance benefits everyone concerned.
Gillian Eadie, MEd, BA, LTCL, HFITPNZ, Churchill Fellow