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Insights from behavioural science can make us happier and more successful at work, but business practices are lagging behind, says CIPD

  • 05 Nov 2014

The science exploring how the brain works and what influences human behaviour has significantly accelerated in the last decade but the way organisations manage, motivate and develop their people has barely changed during this time, warns the CIPD. The CIPD is today launching the first in a series of reports that take a balanced and informed view of how HR can understand and apply behavioural science to create a more successful workforce.

‘Our Minds at Work: Developing the behavioural science of HR’ builds on the CIPD’s previous research into how behavioural science can be applied to learning and development. It explores how people psychologically react and behaviourally respond to interventions, environments and stimuli at work and how HR professionals and managers can apply techniques and policies to get the best out of their people, including:

Personal effectiveness and smarter working: Neuroscience shows that we are essentially ill-equipped to cope with an increasingly fast-paced and fragmented world of work. Increasing our mental capacity and recognising the challenges of multi-tasking can help individuals become more effective at work.

Selection and recruitment: Understanding the strengths and weaknesses of intuition in decision-making can help HR and managers avoid falling prey to unconscious bias.

Pay and reward: Behavioural science identifies that financial reward isn’t the straightforward motivator we think it is. By understanding the power and potential pitfalls of incentives, HR can create more effective remuneration schemes. 

Organisational change programmes: Behavioural science can provide practical insights into how we can foster a change-ready mind-set and how seemingly die-hard habits are malleable and can be replaced.

Jonny Gifford, Research Adviser at the CIPD said: “Our understanding of the human brain has come on in leaps and bounds. But the way we manage, motivate and develop people at work isn’t keeping pace with these exciting advances. There is clear evidence that behavioural science can be applied at work to achieve positive outcomes for both individuals and the organisation. This isn’t about ‘Jedi mind tricks’ or duping; science can genuinely make us happier and more productive. It’s about understanding what drives performance and human behaviour, what makes us tick, how we respond to threat and reward and how existing HR processes and policies may actually undermine professional ethics and create unwanted outcomes.”

‘Our Minds at Work: Developing the behavioural science of HR’ goes on to explore how HR can weigh up the evidence and create an integrated approach that blends behavioural science with other social science and practical HR knowledge.

Jonny Gifford concludes: “While behavioural science is no ‘cure-all’ for the challenges that HR works to address, it’s an important, evidence-driven catalyst for change that can enhance employee wellbeing and boost productivity. There’s a real opportunity here for HR to experiment with these insights and see how policies and behaviours can change for the better as a result. We’ve already witnessed real changes being made in government by applying behavioural science to policy-making; now leaders and managers in the workplace need to seize the opportunity.”

As part of CIPD’s commitment to help HR professionals drive innovation, two in-depth papers exploring how behavioural science can influence selection and recruitment and pay and reward will be launched in 2015.

Download the report here

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