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Low-cost interventions based on transforming employee behaviour can help to change workplace cultures and make them more flexible, according to an Australian study.
The New South Wales (NSW) government’s Behavioural Insights Unit used behavioural economics to try to change workplace norms.
Working with Transport for NSW’s Travel Choice programme, they found that there were three main behavioural barriers to transforming workplace culture: social norms [the strong default setting of the 9-5 culture], staff perceptions about managers’ acceptance of flexi working and individual habits.
They trialled three interventions to tackle these barriers. They changed the default Outlook setting for meetings so that it did not assume 9-5 working. Meeting times were instead condensed into the middle hours of the day; they used buildings’ entry card data to show managers that their teams were copying managers’ starting and leaving behaviour and encouraged them to work more flexibly; and they set up a competition between different teams for who could work the most flexibly. The idea was that teams thrive on competition and that a trial period of flexibility could be enough to disrupt normal patterns of working. The competition was extended over a further nine weeks and the number of off-peak arrivals and departures more than doubled.
Writing in the Harvard Business Review, the researchers who worked on the interventions say: “Organisations wishing to institute change will find no shortage of (sometimes expensive) advice on how to do this. However, we’ve shown that even low-cost behavioural interventions can result in real shifts in workplace norms and culture. Using behavioural insights, and methodologies borrowed from behavioural sciences, you and your organisation can test out simple behavioural tools to find what works for you.”