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The genetics of social business


The past few years have seen an ever increasing array of tests performed on candidates during the recruitment process.  One of the most controversial of these has to be genetic testing.  Such tests have traditionally been on the lookout for genetic abnormalities in healthy individuals that that may place those individuals at increased risk for developing certain diseases. In the workplace, such tests can be used to screen job applicants and employees who, because of their genetic makeup, may be more likely to develop diseases if exposed to certain worksite substances, such as chemicals or radiation.

So, largely for healthcare related reasons.  A new study published by the University of Missouri suggests that such tests might also be able to reveal the collaborative potential of a candidate.

The study explored the 5-HTTLPR genetic region.  The region is believed to regulate serotonin in the brain.  Researchers examined the genotype of nearly 400 people, and found that variations in this genotype strongly influenced how open individuals were to helping others.

University of Missouri social psychologist Gustavo Carlo, one of the study’s co-authors, said that the the genotype variation is just one “indirect pathway” that could lead a person to being a giver. Another potential influence, he said, is the brain’s ability to use dopamine, another brain chemical. Other genetic variations in brain chemistry may play a role as well.

“This is a really exciting area for research,” Carlo said. “There are a lot of studies being done right now that focus on the micro-level biological processes associated with altruistic behavior.”

Co-author Scott F. Stoltenberg, a researcher at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Behavior Genetics Laboratory, says the findings build on previous studies that suggest a link between relative levels of anxiety and prosocial behavior.

“It makes sense that people who have less social anxiety are more likely to help out,” Stoltenberg explained. “When they’re confronted with a situation where another person needs help, they don’t have a problem going over to them and engaging.”

Suffice to say that testing employees genetically for such things is rightly frowned upon, but it does underline the importance of creating an environment that encourages collaborative and prosocial behaviour.  Reducing anxiety and stress levels is clearly a major part of that, which chimes with research recently that explored how collaborative behaviours could be encouraged during a merger, a time of traditionally high stress levels for employees.

“Managers should implement a range of practices that show they care for the well-being of their employees. They need to take note of the concerns of each employee and recognise their needs to resolve their concerns,” the researchers said.

So, if you want collaboration to be part of the DNA of your organisation, make sure that stress isn’t a part of it.

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