Last week, faced with a fully booked Tuesday, I decided on a quick lunch consisting of an M&S* sandwich.  Well, this being not just any sandwich (!), when I opened the packet out fell a prize gift card for £10!

Now, I know that £10 is hardly life changing, but nevertheless it made my day.  It was a great feeling to win this positive surprise, especially as it was the first time that I’d opened an elusive prize-winning pack of something.  The happy incident gave an energising boost to the day… and there were benefits to my brain too.

In fact, this experience was so positive, I wanted to share it with you, Brighter Thinking leader, so that it makes it a win for you too.

So, how can a leader who consistently delivers pleasant surprises to their team significantly improve performance and foster an even more positive work environment?

First up, boosting morale: positive surprises, whether it’s unexpected recognition, rewards, or opportunities, are extremely beneficial to the brain’s neurochemistry.  An unexpected pleasure boosts dopamine (associated with reward) and noradrenaline (associated with focus and attention), much more than if the win (gift, feedback etc) was anticipated.  This can translate to uplifting team members’ spirits and increasing their morale.  When employees feel appreciated and valued, they are more likely to be satisfied and engaged in their work.  Plus, the noradrenaline will stimulate action that they anticipate will lead to future rewards.  This is particularly useful for customer-facing and sales teams!

Then there’s increased motivation: knowing that there may be pleasant surprises in store for their efforts can inspire team members to go above and beyond in their work.  They are more likely to be proactive, initiative-taking and strive for excellence.  Feedback and pulse surveys are used by organisations to incentivise this likelihood.

Also, when a leader consistently delivers pleasant surprises, it builds trust and loyalty within the team.  Team members feel a stronger connection to the leader and the organisation, leading to improved retention rates and reduced turnover.

Another benefit is that most important of assets: a positive culture.  A leader who incorporates pleasant surprises into the team’s culture promotes a positive work environment.  Positivity and enthusiasm tend to be contagious, leading to increased collaboration and camaraderie among team members.

An additional advantage, and one beloved by performance coaches the world over, is encouraging a ‘growth mindset.’  Pleasant surprises can be offered as learning and development opportunities (e.g., external training, access to paid for web content, even trade magazine subscriptions).  By investing in the team’s growth and providing them with chances to improve, the whole team feels the benefits.

You can also anticipate an increase in creativity and innovation.  Surprises often challenge the status quo and encourage thinking outside the box.  When team members are exposed to unexpected experiences or opportunities, it can spark creativity and innovative thinking.

A work environment where positive surprises are a regular occurrence can also help alleviate stress and prevent burnout.  It provides moments of joy and relaxation amid the challenges of the job.  This leads on to enhancing employee well-being.  Positive surprises can go beyond the workplace and extend to personal well-being.  For example, flexible work arrangements or thoughtful gestures during challenging times can show that the leader cares about the team’s overall well-being.

Remember, engaged employees are more committed to their work and the organisation’s goals. By creating a culture of pleasant surprises, a leader can strengthen employee engagement, leading to improved performance and productivity.

Some things to think about when it comes to pleasant surprises …

It’s not about cost.  The amount you spend is not as important as the thought itself (think my high-street sandwich win!).

Opportunities abound for surprises: significant dates, jobs done well, goals achieved (personal and company), just because, when you’re expecting a busy time, even just the fact it’s a Tuesday!

And last but certainly not least is that giving someone a nice surprise will make you feel good too!  You will also experience a release of dopamine, the brain’s ‘feel good’ neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and reward.  In fact, a pleasant surprise can create a cascade of positive effects in the brain, ranging from the release of feel-good neurotransmitters to enhanced memory and learning processes.  These neurobiological responses contribute to the overall impact of pleasant surprises on mood, motivation, and well-being – and come into effect for both the receiver and giver.  A win-win!

What is the best unexpected surprise that you have received, or given?


*For those outside the UK, M&S is an historic food and clothing company which markets itself as higher quality than its competitors.  I’m not being paid to mention them, unfortunately!