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Engaging line managers through behaviourally based interventions

In the second half of 2019, we partnered with the Behavioural Insights Unit (BIU) in the Department of Customer Service and other agencies to trial an email intervention that encouraged middle managers to promote flexible working arrangements with their staff.

The project was to see how we could better engage middle managers in supporting flexible working practices, by randomly allocating managers to a group receiving either a standardised email (control group) or a behaviourally informed email (treatment group). There’s more information on how we did that here. Both emails encouraged them to email their team to discuss flexible working. The treatment email used various behaviourally informed techniques to motivate recipients—including sending the email from a senior leader, using an email template to lower friction costs and highlighting how other managers encourage flexible working.

Results from the trial showed that managers receiving the behaviourally informed email were three times more likely to send the email than those receiving the standardised email. This confirms the usefulness of adopting behavioural insights techniques when crafting your communications targeting behavioural change.

However, the trial also revealed that the overall impact of email alone remains low in driving active change. Just 3% of recipients in the treatment group, and 1% of the control group, sent the email to their team as directed.

Mass emails and communications efforts raise some awareness but are unlikely to be enough to create the behavioural and systemic change needed to achieve the sector’s flexible work goals. Direct behavioural change interventions with a strong evidence base, are necessary. Here are two successful interventions across NSW Government:

  1. Team-based design, where you design a trial of flexible working with an entire team at once, setting parameters based on the nature of the work needed, and principles based on the ‘rules of the road’ everyone will stick to for the trial’s duration.
  2. The BI trial run at NSW Premier and Cabinet, where default diary settings were changed, managers encouraged to use/role model flexibility themselves, and a competition was run between teams to encourage the use of flexible working.