Behavioural science has had something of a meteoric rise over the last decade. The field first rose to prominence with the advent of the UK coalition government back in 2010 when ‘The Nudge Unit’ was first founded, and ever since the furore around the subject has only gained momentum. Now, hundreds of organisations inside and outside of the manufacturing industry are embracing the benefits of working with behavioural science insights.

What’s all the fuss about?

Results, fundamentally. Since its inception, The UK’s ‘Nudge Unit’ has saved the taxpayer £30 million simply by sending text messages to those owing fines to the government asking them to pay on time. They got 4.2% more people to register to vote just by rewarding them with entry to a local lottery. And they got more jobseekers off benefits and back into work weeks faster, simply by asking them to make a written commitment to apply to more roles each week.

Many of these ideas are simple and easy to implement, involving tweaks to existing communications at first.

Skanska is one such business that has recently embraced the field, focussing on HSSE as its first priority. Despite everyone’s best intentions, staff can simply become so familiar with onsite rules and regulations that they can become background noise over time. After all, see a site safety notice every day for two years and chances are it won’t register with the same impact as it did when you first read it – and that’s when the risk of accidents can rise. With that in mind, Skanska Norway wanted to use the opportunity of its annual Safety Week to avoid this kind of HSSE desensitisation, and devise a way to ensure onsite safety stays top-of-mind for every employee worker on every shift, every day.

“We all know the rules and routines, but sometimes shortcuts are still taken when our safety precautions slip from people’s minds," says Peer Christian Anderssen, head of HSE at Skanska Norway.

To decide how best to do that, Skanska worked with Spoon Agency (https://spoonagency.co.uk/) – messaging experts who have recently added behavioural science insights to their 20+ years of communications experience. After conducting some research , they set out an HSSE campaign built around one of the key principles of behavioural science – messenger effects. This is the phenomenon where people pay much more attention to information delivered by people they admire, love or respect, or who are very similar to them.

Come home in one piece, dad!”

The thinking was, what if safety messages could be delivered not by Skanska, but by the people Skanska’s employees care about most in the world? Spoon theorised that the messenger effect would have a significant impact, and so created a series of films featuring Skanska people’s families surprising their loved ones at work.

In each, the children, parent, or partner of the employee would arrive unexpectedly on site and express just how it important it is to them for their loved one to come home safe each day. Making such a heartfelt plea to someone they love became a hugely emotional moment captured on camera; so, naturally, seeing the tears in their families’ eyes spurred each employee to promise to look after themselves even more closely from there on out.

See an example of a film here.

“When my mum and cousin showed up at the site unannounced, I was totally overwhelmed by surprise. I had never expected that. The same goes for the film, when I saw my cousin tearing up while explaining what I mean to her it blew it me away," comments Evelyn Bolli Hyldbakk, tunnel worker, Skanska Norge.

It appeared the messenger effect had worked. But Skanska had to make sure they capitalised on these powerful moments to make the message stick. So that’s what it did – quite literally in fact. Each person who surprised a Skanksa employee also gave the employee a sticker featuring a photo of those they love to wear on the helmet they put on each and every day; their own families beaming out at the camera beside the message ‘Come home in one piece! Accidents at work hurt the most at home’. In effect, every time the employee put on their helmet, they would see their family members and be reminded of Skanska’s HSSE policies right at the start of the shift.

The IKEA Effect

The films were shared throughout Skanska’s annual ‘Safety Week’, making waves among site managers across the network. People began to ask if they could have their own stickers of their families to wear at work, thereby presenting the team with another opportunity to use a behavioural science insight to maximise the opportunity this presented.

The IKEA effect is the principle that we value things that we’ve created ourselves more than similar things we haven’t. With that in mind, Spoon created an employee online ‘shop’ where all workers could personally upload pictures of their families, friends or even pets and print off stickers, ready to place on their helmets themselves. That personal involvement was crucial, because studies suggest that actually making the sticker would not only mean that employees valued the stickers more, but also the safety messages that adorned them.

The message ‘Come home in one piece’ is still a prominent message at Skanska, one year later.

‘Incredibly effective’

A year later, the stickers are still visible on employees’ safety gear.

Peer Christian Anderssen, head of HSE at Skanska Norway, said of the initiative, “The element of surprise and genuine emotions was an incredibly effective way of getting our message across. This is the first time we have managed to turn our Safety Week films into true conversation pieces among all our employees and we got lots of feedback from people who were astonished by the stories.

Even more importantly, our onsite health and safety managers found that the films and the stickers really sparked both engagement and reflection in the Safety Week sessions, which was an important goal for us.

The main goal was really to change behaviour around important safety issues on our sites. We could try to change attitudes first - but the benefit of working with behaviour is that behaviour can be observed, guided and sanctioned. We see the potential of changing attitudes through a change of behaviour. Our company culture is about both, but when it comes to safety – actual behaviour is the lifesaving key.”