Behavior change isn’t easy — not for the employer attempting to change its employees’ bad habits or for the employee seeking to reinvent themselves. But research is looking into scientifically proven ways to motivate behavior change effectively.
Studies have discovered varying methods of how to motivate behavior change. The field of behavioral economics is fairly new, and just this past year University of Chicago professor Richard Thaler got the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Studies for his work in behavioral economics, which “combines insights from psychology, judgment, decision-making and economics to generate a more accurate understanding of human behavior.”
The Orlando-based Human Performance Institute was founded in 1991 and acquired by Johnson & Johnson in 2008. Johnson & Johnson announced earlier this year that it is investing $18 million in a new research and training facility that will double as HPI’s global headquarters. Construction is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2018, according to an HPI press release.
The expansion is significant in that it will double the facility’s capability to do research on well-being and behavior change and allow the facility to bring more programs to market, according to Lowinn Kibbey, global head of Johnson & Johnson HPI.
Much of HPI’s research focuses on engaging employees in the four dimensions of energy, Kibbey said. There’s physical, or the quantity of energy they have; mental, the focus of that energy; emotional, the quality of the energy; and spiritual, how much that energy is grounded in purpose and meaning.
“If you show up physically, mentally, emotionally, aligned to your purpose and focused on what matters most, it benefits you as a human being, at home or at work,” Kibbey said.
Employee well-being is a growing trend in the workplace, but not every company sees positive results in its employee population, he added. Organizations typically offer more nutritious food in the cafeteria or education on improving some aspect of employee health, like how to sleep better. But there must be more, Kibbey said.
These programs aren’t wrong, Kibbey said, “but if [companies] think that’s going to change behavior on its own, they’ll find they’ll get a fairly low ROI on that.”
Knowledge is an enabler of behavior change but not a motivator, he added. Based on HPI research, this type of change must start with a deep, personal, intrinsic motivator. A company cannot educate behavior change.
“Behavior change has become a bit of a buzzword, but everyone knows, even those who are optimistic, that it’s not easy,” Kibbey said.
One factor that does motivate change is purpose, a component of the spiritual dimension of energy that employees need to be engaged. Kibbey suggests that employers have some sort of structured program in place so that employees can understand their purpose. HPI hosts one-day-long Resilience course and 2 ½-day Performance course. These courses are structured and facilitated so that employees can think about their purpose and discuss it with other people, including trained coaches.
A structured, formal program is ideal, he said, because some people find that thinking about their purpose is daunting and they could benefit from an experience where there’s time and facilitation to move through that process of self-reflection.
HPI’s Resilience and Performance courses are offered to both Johnson & Johnson employees and other organizations, and they range from $650 to $5,700 in cost depending on program length and location. While some companies have covered part or all of the cost as part of its wellness program, Kibbey said, individuals may also pay for their own participation.
Not all organizations need to invest in a formal program for something like this, of course. For employers who are interested in running a similar program on their own, what’s important is that they give employees the space and time to do so, Kibbey said. Someone can facilitate a group conversation in which employees can converse with each other about what gives them a sense of purpose.
The institute’s research has found some interesting findings on behavior change involving purpose, he added. Internal goals like “I want to be happy” aren’t sustainable motivators long term but achievement-based goals like “I want to win Wimbledon this year” can be sustainable, although not necessarily attainable.
“What companies can do as they focus on employee well-being is concentrate on giving their employees time and space to understand what is meaningful in their lives personally,” Kibbey said.
Andie Burjek is a Workforce associate editor. Comment below or email firstname.lastname@example.org.