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Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

By Kate Parker

28 September 2017
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Nudging has been fashionable for a few years as the key to creating behaviour change around all sorts of public health issues like smoking, exercise and healthy eating. But nudging can be exhausting because you have to keep doing it. Sustainable behaviour change needs more than the nudge, it needs initiatives that crack the hardest part of the journey – the innocuously named maintenance element. Your nudge has succeeded, but how do you stop reverting to the old behaviour?

It’s an ongoing challenge for us at Forster, even though we have just been chosen as Britain’s Healthiest Workplace by VitalityHealth for the second year in a row.  We do a heck of a lot of nudging. Suggesting that we should try a different, more environmentally friendly, coffee supplier. Encouraging the senior team to try and have walking meetings every day for a month, to see if it catches on. Planting a shiny new VR headset in the kitchen and seeing if anyone uses it for a bit of headspace during their working day. Persuading people to try something different is hard. Persuading people who aren’t even motivated to try something different is even harder. Getting them to stick to it? The Holy Grail. But nudging is only one way to start the journey. You have to involve people in a dynamic exchange for the behaviour change to stick, they need to have a role to play in it all.

Communicate with, not to – ask audiences for their view, get people excited, explain how much time or money they are going to save, or more energy they will have, look for enlightened self-interest buttons to press. But it’s important to think beyond the communication and make sure you test out your innovation first. Is it actually effective? That way when you scale it out to the whole company, you’re not wasting your time.

If it’s not working don’t beat yourself up – people forget, lose interest or just prioritise other things – that’s why evaluation and learning is so important. Plan for a relapse and use the data and feedback you gather to check in and think, is it:

  • Still relevant? – There is good reason we run cycle to work day at the end of summer, reminding people that now is a good time to get back on their bikes. It would be far less successful if we did it in January each year.
  • Valuable? – Did attendance of the onsite yoga classes drop off because they would rather get out of the office to their own gym after work? If the answer is yes, then maybe it’s worth investing that money elsewhere.
  • Easy? – Is there a 3 step verification process to get hold of a councillor via your Employee Assistance Programme? No wonder nobody is using it. Work with your providers to ensure the path of least resistance.
  • Trusted? – Would you join a running club if you saw it advertised on a post-it on the back of the toilet door? Me neither, and this is where involving leadership teams, or mental health champions across the business in your communications can have the biggest pay off.
  • Part of the culture? – Embedding interventions doesn’t happen overnight, but if it’s not having any traction, look deeper into why. Are the line managers trained properly to help drive participation? Is anyone talking about it or sharing it with their peers? Are the communications channels right, or the tone of voice slightly off?

This will help focus your time and money and ultimately, get the best results. The best thing I’ve learnt going through this whole process is to find champions across the business; they love making suggestions, encouraging others and giving you feedback that you would never have heard if they themselves are passionate about whatever it is you’re trying to change. The more you can involve others, the bigger your chance of success.

We’ve been working this way for the last 21 years, not only helping our clients use communications to create positive change, but to also deliver the change we want to see within our own business. The VitalityHealth survey we completed for the award looks at nine different risk factors for employees including nutrition, physical activity, mental wellbeing, smoking, alcohol and sleep as well as workplace interventions, facilities and services. It crucially gathers both the employer and employees perspectives, giving us a well-rounded evaluation with which we can continue to improve our own programme. We know that employee wellbeing is key for productivity, creativity, recruitment and retention and this award recognises that the innovative policies and initiatives we have in place are really having positive long term results. If you have any questions, or would like to find out more about how we can improve employee engagement at your organisation then please get in touch.