In a matter of weeks, life in the U.S. has completely turned upside down, as we’re all taking drastic measures to “flatten the curve” and slow down the spread of COVID-19.
Businesses have had to make significant changes to their operations to comply with federal, state, and local regulations around social distancing in light of the pandemic. For many, this looks like closed offices, remote-only work, and in unfortunate cases, layoffs.
With circumstances continually evolving, there is a constant stream of timely, often urgent, information to share with overwhelmed employees. Yet because of COVID-19, it is more important than ever that your communications reach and engage your employees. This is possible when you apply behavioral science to your methods.
Uncharted Communications Challenges
Recently, Gallup reviewed past research, applied it to COVID-19, and developed a short pulse survey for employers to send out. Results found that:
- Only 39% of U.S. employees strongly agree their employer has communicated a clear plan of action in response to COVID-19.
- 54% of employees strongly agree that considering the recent impact of COVID-19 on their job, they feel well-prepared to do their work.
- 48% of employees strongly agree their immediate supervisor keeps them informed about what’s going on in the organization as it relates to the impact of COVID-19.
- 45% of employees strongly agree their organization cares about their overall wellbeing.
- 27% of employees say they “always” practice social distancing, while 40% practice it “very often,” as of March 19.
What this all means is human resources professionals are under pressure to maintain employee satisfaction, encourage healthy behaviors, and deliver clear, assuring messages about the future — in light of all the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19.
Behavioral Science Breaks Through The Noise
Due to the unprecedented nature of the pandemic, it’s not enough for employers to simply tweak the language used in existing employee engagement communications and programs. Current protocols are grossly inadequate and programs require an agility that doesn’t come easily. You’ve got to disseminate new policies and procedures, critical updates, tips for working from home, and more — all while your employees are overloaded with information about the virus in the news, on social media, and in personal conversations. This makes it even more challenging to drive healthy behavior and utilization of existing resources.
It’s time for a completely new strategy.
Leveraging behavioral science principles can help you overcome some of these hurdles. Here are three tips for using behavioral science to communicate with employees in a way that is informative, and not overwhelming.
1. Identify Biases Affecting Your COVID-19 Communications
There are more than 30 psychological barriers and 170 cognitive biases that all block or facilitate what we do or don’t do — especially during times of crisis. To effectively communicate with your employees, you first need to understand which biases and barriers could impact their current behavior and how to overcome them.
For example, humans tend to prefer the status quo and are often hesitant to try something new. This means your employees may choose not to schedule telehealth appointments due to lack of experience and distrust with new avenues of healthcare — decisions that could have dangerous consequences during a pandemic. But, major disruptions like COVID-19 can also create opportunities to introduce new behaviors, like using telehealth, if you do it correctly.
It’s important to account for these potential biases in your employee engagement communication strategy, so you can help employees move beyond them.
2. Understand Decision-Making Processes
Even under normal circumstances, increasing health resource utilization requires employers to understand how their employees make decisions and tailor communications accordingly. But it becomes exponentially more critical today, as employees face new challenges and new decisions.
Dual Process Theory describes the two decision-making processes we all use. System 1 is our subconscious process that is fast and always on. It’s the first to render a decision about anything we encounter. System 2, our conscious process, is difficult, slow, and deliberate.
The human brain can process about 10 million bits of information per second subconsciously, but only about 50 bits per second consciously. As a result, System 2 is easily overwhelmed. Extraordinary circumstances that disrupt our lives, like COVID-19, overwhelm our System 2 capacity and make us more reliant on System 1 judgments.
This means when employees receive a company email, they may default to System 1 which scans the highlights, makes a snap decision, and moves on. But to absorb critical information, they need to use System 2, which consciously reads and considers every word.
To communicate effectively, you must understand the biases influencing System 1 choices so you can apply them or accommodate them to ensure your message gets through.
3. Create Hyper-Personalized Messages
With insight around your employees’ biases and barriers to action, you can develop a more targeted communication strategy. If you want to take this strategy one step further, you can employ behavior change AI technology to create hyper-personalized messages that keep your employees informed and urge them to make healthy behavior changes during the crisis.
Hyper-personalization goes beyond incentivizing employees with cash and prizes and focuses on intrinsic behaviors and decision-making processes. It allows you to communicate with employees on a deeper level and in a way that resonates with them individually.
Behavior Change AI from Lirio
Lirio’s behavior change AI platform supports employee engagement communications and programs during the COVID-19 outbreak. Through the combination of behavioral science and AI, we help you create hyper-personalized messages to move employees to adhere to best practices and take advantage of benefits, such as telehealth.
The platform processes reactions, personalizes messages, and iterates on your deployment indefinitely, so you can effectively communicate with employees during each stage of the crisis.
Watch Our Recent Webinar
Want to learn how behavioral science can help you deliver clearer, more compelling messages to your employees as you navigate the COVID-19 outbreak?
Watch our webinar “How to Make Your Employee Communications More Effective During COVID-19,” on demand. We discuss how cognitive biases influence people’s comprehension and behavior, and share tips for employing behavioral science in your employee communication methods.
We hope this informative, practical discussion will reduce your stress, take some work off your plate, and help you confidently deploy your employee communications plan during this life- and business-altering event.
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