Behavioural Science in HR

Thu 24 Oct 2019

Human resources is an ever changing industry managing employee welfare and productivity. With recent developments in behavioural science and its importance in the field of HR, we will be discussing what behavioural science is, and how its research findings can be used in a workplace setting. 

What is Behavioural Science?

So what is behavioural science? Alternatively known as behavioural economics, behavioural science is the scientific study of behaviour in humans. The study considers many aspects, such as psychology, biology, economics, anthropology and cognitive science. 

Behavioural science is a heavily contextualised field of study to help understand and recognise why humans behave in the way they do, and how such behaviours relate to various environments, whether that be prison behaviours, society in a particular city, or behaviours in the workplace. 

How does Behavioural Science relate to HR?

Human resources is a field of work which centres around the wellbeing and productivity of humans in a workplace. By studying behavioural science, we are able to gain a deeper understanding of how individuals interact with each other in a group setting and how this relates to their productivity in the workplace. 

Incorporating behavioural science findings into HR management can better support the productivity and wellbeing of employees in the workplace. 

Our brains are constantly processing information, which means we make short-cuts in what we do with that information, which can lead to bias, procrastination, and lazy behaviours. However, in the workplace we need to behave much more objectively. 

The CIPD say that as the people experts, HR departments professionals need to lead the way in how we manage people’s behaviour in the workplace. Work can, and should, be a force for good. By using what we know about the science of human behaviour, we can look into why people’s behaviour may not be in line with their organisational culture and requirements.

READ MORE: What is people management and why is it important?

Areas in HR where behavioural science can be applied:

  • Learning and development 
  • Ethical behaviour 
  • Pay and reward 
  • Performance management
  • Workplace environments 
  • Personal effectiveness 
  • Selection and recruitment 
  • Organisational change 
  • Employee engagement
  • Team Building
  • Equality and inclusion 
  • Employee engagement 
  • Interpersonal conflict

Examples of behavioural science in HR

The CIPD - the professional body HR and people development - discusses an extensive list of ways behavioural science can be used effectively in HR.

Behavioural science in team building

Collaborative work is often an essential, core aspect of a workplace environment. Social sciences have long investigated the benefits of a social environment in the workplace, and how it can be beneficial to boost employee engagement and productivity. 

Research shows that although the task can be effectively performed individually, simply inviting others to work together can boost employees' engagement and interest in the task. This therefore boosts productivity and aids in the development and maintenance of a health work environment between peers. 

Human resource managers can implement this research in the workplace to boost employee productivity and implement effective team building exercises during development training. 

Behavioural science in interpersonal conflict

Investigating and resolving interpersonal conflicts between employees has long been a significant topic in human resource departments. Studying human behaviour has allowed us to gain an insight into the psychology behind workplace conflicts and how to resolve them effectively. 

Rather than resolving conflict, research shows that formal HR or legal action tends to escalate matters further, rather than resolving matters. Ultimately, the goal of HR departments is to resolve conflict to ensure a healthy workplace environment. 

Research has found that through meditation and reconciliation, workplace conflicts can be resolved in a healthy manner, allowing for all parties to sustain workplace camaraderie. 

Behavioural science in selection and recruitment

Everyone is vulnerable to unconscious bias, so it is important for recruiters in the HR department to tackle this issue and try their best to remain objective.

Behavioural science research shows that recruiters should not focus too much on predicting how a potential new recruit will perform in the workplace in the long term, as this can make them susceptible to bias. 

This bias can be influenced by surface level judgements such as sharing characteristics with a previously employee who was incompetent. 

Studying and researching behavioural science can allow HR managers to evaluate their choices and overcome any bias. 

READ MORE: How to progress in your HR career

Workplace behavioural science tips: 

  • If someone doesn’t know how long a task is going to take, they will procrastinate - often indefinitely. Make it simple and let them know it’s easy
  • Appreciation is the number one motivator. People want what they are doing to be noticed and acknowledged. And little and often is much better than a large dose infrequently.
  • Social psychology shows people bond over a novelty. If employees are coming together who don’t know each other very well, introduce something into the environment they can connect over. 
  • If people feel safe to be creative and get things wrong in a team setting, then the  team will be much more productive
  • If a job advert doesn’t specify “salary negotiable,” more men than women will negotiate. If the advert says “salary negotiable” then women and men are both equally open to negotiate. 
  • People are more engaged long-term, work harder and become more successful when they make progress in tasks that mattered to them. 
  • Change is a constant, but to be successful it should be little and often. Big changes jar with our sense of identity, whereas we know from studies that small steps work. 

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