The social nature of COVID-related behaviour, how people (mis)perceive risk, how they respond to symptoms of the disease, the impact of campaign reminders, behavioural impacts of blended working, and wellbeing, were just some of the issues addressed by Professor Pete Lunn, founder and head of the Behavioural Research Unit (BRU) at the ESRI when he addressed a recent Shannon Chamber webinar, supported by Adare Human Resource Management.
As a member of the Behavioural Change Subgroup of NPHET and the Department of Health’s Communications and Behavioural Advisory Committee, Professor Lunn’s team have conducted multiple behavioural studies for the Department of Health and the Department of the Taoiseach, designed to support compliance with public health guidance and to improve public communication.
Advising organisations to factor in the great variability in how people handle uncertainty, he said it was crucially important to ensure that employees understand and can clearly see the benefits of any changes they may be required to make in the weeks and months ahead.
“Half of the population are conditioned co-operators; If they see the benefit of doing something, they will comply. That’s why it is important to address and discuss the implications on society of non-adherence to protocol. Social disapproval is the most powerful behavioural lever. It is important to let people know that what they are doing is for the common goal. Given that the primary driver of people’s behaviour is what other people think of them, they will be influenced by how their behaviour is going to be viewed by others.
“Make information easily available to your workforce. Reminders only work if they attract attention so refresh where you place COVID-19 signs; they work best if people have to walk around them, “he added.
Turning his attention to the future and the potential of blended learning, he said that while the demand for it is high, its introduction will be highly variable.
“Evidence suggests that many large organisations will make it the norm but the decision on how to introduce it will be the crux. How much choice do you give employees? Will it be individual-level arrangements or will employees be given limited options to choose from? However the decision is arrived at, do it through consultation as what is perceived as fair will matter,” he advised.
On the issue of wellbeing, Professor Lunn said that restrictions, boredom, and frustration have impacted younger people the most.
“In a survey of 11,000 people since January 2021, we found that the under 40s’ wellbeing has been most impacted by restrictions. They have been most affected by the uncertainty of the pandemic in terms of planning and thinking ahead. That’s why organisations with a predominantly young workforce should reintroduce the social aspects of work, in an outdoor setting.
“Don’t put the social side of your company on hold,” he advised attendees.
Commenting during the webinar from her direct experiences of working with companies since the onset of COVID-19, Adare Human Resource Management’s Sarah Fagan stated that low mental wellbeing was being found in groups that have not been affected in this way before, particularly people with extrovert personalities.
“They have found it more difficult to deal with lockdowns and restrictions, whereas introverts have not been adversely challenged,” she said.
Shannon Chamber CEO Helen Downes said the webinar was highly beneficial and looks forward to inviting Professor Lunn back to Shannon when live events are permissible to give a follow-up presentation on his work he and his team at the ESRI are providing on behavioural evidence for organisations.