Using behavioural science can boost productivity and liberate our creative sides

Many Conservative MPs in Britain are reportedly flinching at the idea of compulsory ‘unconscious bias training’. STEPHANIE WATSON explains why all of us should be prepared to shake up our entrenched views…

ONE OF the most common quirks of the workplace is confirmation bias, which is the human tendency to search for, favour, and use information that confirms one’s pre-existing views.

This can extend to performance evaluations, hiring, and even how employees think about their customers or audiences.

Innovation requires a mix of new ideas, and a diverse and open attitude. Nobody likes to admit that they’re wrong, which is why confirmation bias can be hard to overcome.

Biased hiring results in less diverse teams, which hinders productivity. Businesses perform better when they have greater ethnic and gender diversity. Processes should be reviewed to eliminate unconscious bias, such as standardisation in the hiring process and the removal of names on CVs.

When it comes to making big decisions in the workplace, a “devil’s advocate” can be effective in bringing confirmation bias to light. Appoint someone in the team to ask contradictory questions that spark debate, and uncover potential holes in a major decision.

Businesses have been challenged by the move to remote working, and the change has taken its toll on the bottom line. With something approaching “business as usual” on the rebound, it’s vital that productivity recovers with it.

Looking at the problems through the lens of behavioural science presents some solutions.

According to The Times, the UK is in a meetings epidemic, with the average worker now spending 213 hours a year — that’s 26 working days — stuck in meetings. And according to research by MIT, a third of all meeting time is wasted.

An effective strategy is to set default duration times. Meetings often run to an hour due to diary software, but cutting that to 30 minutes will create a new standard and keep employees focused.

According to research by McKinsey, the average professional spends 28 percent of the working day reading and answering emails. The study also found that 70 percent of email recipients responded within six seconds, and 85 percent did so within two minutes.

Email culture places social pressure on employees; recipients feel the sender needs a speedy response, especially if it is someone in a senior position. This pressure might explain the finding that more time spent on emails equates to higher recorded stress levels. The pressure also causes disruption to workflow; employees take up to 23 minutes to recover from the interruption of emails.

Dedicated distraction-free time periods can be an effective solution. Email-free or no-meeting days (or afternoons) allow uninterrupted prioritisation of tasks.

* Stephanie Watson is a senior behavioural planner at Total Media.