27 Jan The Power of Choice
Autonomy is a fundamental human driver – we want to have a choice about what happens to us. In a large team, it can be hard for individuals to feel much sense of control, and the resulting frustration can lead to counter-productive behaviours. Engaging employees often begins by recognising that they always have a choice in how they act, that it’s up to them to decide who they are in the workplace. From there, we find that people will often choose to do the right thing.
We were working with a client last year to increase recycling within their workplace. Over several years, the organisation had produced a number of communications reminding employees of the importance of recycling, for the benefit of the business, for the planet, for themselves and their children. Yet recycling rates remained stubbornly below targets. The organisation had also installed more recycling bins and improved signage and processes, making it easy for people to do the right thing. But still recycling rates weren’t moving.
Finally, the organisation removed under-desk bins, which had been enabling bad habits for some employees. The move was part of a long-planned and well-communicated strategy, but it met with fierce emotional resistance. People complained, some began leaving plastic bags of mixed rubbish on desks or around the office, and recycling bins were being contaminated with non-recyclable waste.
We dug into available data about team perceptions and motivations. The organisation had a reputation for environmental consciousness and many employees said this was a source of pride for them, even a reason for having joined the business in the first place. In staff surveys, an overwhelming majority wanted the organisation to minimise waste.
With the project team, we developed a new communication campaign, built around two key messages. First we reminded people that they had asked for recycling, that it was something they said they wanted to do. And second, we emphasised that it was an individual choice whether or not to recycle. Ultimately, no-one could make them do it. A new tagline (which we can’t share here) effectively said ‘your call’.
Over a few months, the negative behaviours disappeared, regulated by staff themselves. And we’ve just heard that the campaign has contributed to a 90% improvement so far, in the targeted aspect of recycling.