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28 Jun 2022
by Tim Brook

3 ways employee behaviour directly influences benefits engagement and overall wellbeing

How can organisations persuade employees to make changes that have a positive impact on their health, wealth and happiness?

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Employee benefits designed to improve people’s physical, mental and financial health can’t help to provide the support colleagues need to perform their roles to the best of their ability unless they trigger a tangible response.

Unfortunately, being told the right thing to do doesn’t mean we do it.

We all know we should drink more water and eat more fresh fruit and vegetables, but many of us still struggle to follow such advice.

As Paul Davies, behavioural psychologist at Behaviour Consulting, highlights: “We know that we should exercise more, eat healthier foods, drink less, smoke less, save more, and spend less. Sometimes, we make the extra effort to change, such as setting New Year’s resolutions, but often these fall by the wayside fairly rapidly, mainly because the mechanisms by which we make decisions are seldom deliberate and logical – they’re fast and emotional.”

So, what can organisations do to persuade more employees to make changes that have a positive impact on their health, wealth and happiness?

People don’t automatically do what’s best for them

Doing what’s best for us sounds simple. But we’re all busy and often delay changing our behaviour – sometimes indefinitely – even when we recognise those changes would have a positive impact on our lives.

“Our brain is an incredibly sophisticated machine, but it’s evolved to make life and death decisions,” Davies says. “It struggles in more abstract environments such as making good financial or wellbeing decisions.”

Off-the-shelf benefits communications strategies that concentrate on educating people about their options are therefore highly unlikely to have the desired effect.

“When we accept the true nature of how people make decisions, it changes the way companies should communicate with their colleagues,” Davies says.

Providing information and education doesn’t work

As employee wellbeing has moved up the business agenda, well-intentioned organisations have rushed to create “financial education hubs” or “wellbeing wake-up packs” designed to help people understand how certain actions will improve their lives. But as Davies says in the first point, knowing what’s good for us is not always enough.

“Our problem isn't lack of information,” he adds. “It is that we misjudge the likelihood that people will consume the information in the first place.

“I’ve observed global organisations allocate large budgets to creating education hubs with well-written articles, short videos, and infographics only to be bewildered when faced with the incredibly low – almost negligible – viewing figures.

“To effectively support people with financial and wellbeing choices, we therefore need to acknowledge two misconceptions that lead organisations down expensive dead ends.

“First, we should accept the reality of decisions and not just assume people automatically do what’s best for them. Then, we need to resist the temptation to simply supply information – a logical solution to an emotional problem.”

Long-term planning goes against the grain

Humans, like other animals, are hard-wired to prefer instant gratification; we want what we want now, not later. And with modern society putting the world at our fingertips, we are used to getting it.

“The immediate sugary hit of a Snickers feels more pleasurable than nibbling on a celery stick,” Davies said. “Getting that home cinema system now and not having to pay until later feels good. And spending today feels nicer than tucking it away for tomorrow.”

Convincing employees to save for the future is, therefore, one of the biggest challenges for companies keen to improve financial wellbeing, especially against a punishing financial backdrop.

So, to hit the spot, benefits communications need to be framed in a way that supports people taking action or changing their behaviour and the four main points to remember to achieve this are:

1. Make it easy to do

2. Make sure they know why it’s useful

3. Reassure them that it’s safe

4. Let them know other people are also doing it

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