NSW’s nudge unit suggests using behavioural insights to boost compliance in the public service

By Shannon Jenkins

Friday August 28, 2020

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Public service organisations can use behavioural insights to improve employee compliance with procedures, according to a new guide.

The resource developed by the New South Wales government’s Behavioural Insights Unit explores how agencies can bring the behaviour of their staff in line with their procedures, as well as how to bring those procedures in line with the “realities of human behaviour”.

The guide notes that while having procedures can mitigate risks, improve customer service and ensure organisations run smoothly, the level of staff adherence to procedures can be influenced by a number of factors.

The BIU suggests that making compliance convenient for public servants can improve adherence. Agencies can do this by cutting any unnecessary procedures, investing time in making the procedure faster and easier, and monitoring compliance budgets (the amount of inconvenience people will tolerate before they resort to lower compliance) by regularly asking staff about their perceptions of the costs and benefits of following certain procedures.


Read more: Social pressure or punishment? Using behavioural insights for compliance


As people are less likely to complete tasks that seem meaningless, the BIU recommends staff explain why particular procedures are necessary, and “tailor the rationale to employee motivations”. Asking employees to develop compliance strategies can also be beneficial.

Procedures should be designed with the aim of reducing the chance of mistakes, the guide says, noting that the error rate increases as a job becomes more complex. Creating checklists, talking openly about errors, and giving personalised, timely feedback can help prevent mistakes.

On keeping employees motivated, the BIU notes that there are five key elements that drive employee engagement: meaningful work, supportive management, positive work environment, growth opportunities, and trust in leadership. Agencies should measure employee engagement regularly using surveys and admin data to pinpoint which areas could be improved.

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