Nudging in the workplace. How do you encourage employees to wear hearing protection?

9 Feb 2021

There is a lot of talk about the importance of wearing hearing protection in the workplace. The law dictates it in the European Regulation 2016/425 and companies make custom-made hearing protection available to their employees, but then what? In practice, the biggest challenge turns out to lie in the change of human behavior. How do you get your employees to actually wear their hearing protection in the workplace? 

Many companies have already tried everything to make their employees aware of the importance of wearing hearing protection. Instructions and information are given, action campaigns are launched on the impact of noise and procedures are adapted to encourage wearing. Yet it turns out that it does not work sufficiently and that employees time and again do not wear their hearing protection or occasionally. One of the techniques that can then be used is "nudging". 

"By understanding what lies underneath human decisions, you can steer behavior with certain techniques"

 

Technique: Nudging 

Sometimes people just need a little nudge in the right direction. A reminder that makes them realize that, in addition to wearing personal protective equipment such as reinforced shoes, safety glasses and a helmet, they also have to wear their hearing protectors ... and keep them in! Many of our decisions are not made rationally and deliberately. By understanding what lies beneath the decision, you can use certain techniques to steer the behavior. By giving people a nudge. But what exactly is such a nudge? 

Example of nudging at Schiphol Airport Amsterdam

You may have heard of the fly in the toilets at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam. This is one of the best-known examples of nudging, although the term was not yet described at the time. At Schiphol they suffered from odor nuisance in the toilets due to "splashbacks". To make men aim better, a sticker of a fly was placed in the urinal. The fly drew attention and unconsciously ensured that men started aiming better (at the fly), which resulted in less spilling and more hygienic urination. 

"The main advantage of nudging is that the possibility of an independent choice is retained"

 

Among others, the principle of nudging is used in behavioral sciences, behavioral economics and political theory. Nudges respond to automatic and unconscious behavior. Nudging uses positive reinforcement and indirect suggestions to influence the behavior and decision-making of groups or individuals. Thus, behavior is influenced without coercion. According to Thaler and Sunstein (Thaler et al., 2008), the technique is a good addition to traditional instruments for influencing behavior such as: legislation, information, financial incentives or enforcement. The biggest advantage is that the possibility of independent choice is retained. 

How do you ensure successful nudging? 

Much research is being done into the psychology behind influencing behavior. The British Behavioral Insight Team(BIT) has proven that people can display certain behaviors by providing simple - and seemingly irrelevant - stimuli. Sometimes a small adjustment in the context can lead to a big change in behavior. BIT has developed 4 main principles of factors that influence our behavior, EAST for short, that you can use to determine a nudging campaign for your employees. EAST stands for Easy, Attractive, Social and Timely. 

1. Easy - Make the desired behavior easy 

Make sure the desired behavior is easy to perform. This can be done by ensuring that there are no obstacles to displaying the desired behavior or, conversely, that there are obstacles to displaying undesirable behavior. Also keep the message, procedures and execution simple so that people can choose better. After all, we tend to go for standard options, so when presented with a standard choice, chances are people will choose that. 

2. Attractive - Make the desired behavior attractive 

When you make wearing hearing protection attractive, it is more likely that people will take action and actually start wearing the protection. 

3. Social: Make the desired behavior socially desirable 

Social acceptance of our behavior is something we often unconsciously desire. We look at others and pay attention to what is accepted in society or in the social group to which we belong. By making hearing protection the norm, employees are more likely to want to confirm to this behavior. 

4. Timely: Nudge at the right time 

The right push at the right time often determines the degree of success. Make sure the timing and message of your nudging campaign is correct. 

What types of nudging can you use? 

There are different types of nudging that can be used to change the behavior of employees and to promote, or even standardize, the wearing of hearing protection (Sunstein, 2014). The examples below are classified according to the EAST principles: 

EAST principles to change behaviour

Easy 

  • Standard rules: You can ask employees to register if they are not wearing their hearing protection. Such an opt-out system works well, because having to make an active choice is often a barrier for people. 
  • Simple: If procedures are made very accessible, more people will follow them. For example, provide multilingual information about the importance of hearing protection if you have multilingual employees. 
  • Increased convenience: By ensuring that no effort is required to wear the hearing protectors, you lower the threshold for wearing them. For example, they are readily available, are specially tailored for your employee, have a carrying cord and are easy to take with you. 

Social 

  • Social norm: If you emphasize the behavior of most people in your communication, you set the positive example: “X colleagues always wear their hearing protection”. People tend to want to be part of that. 
  • Intent: Asking about people's intentions creates awareness. "Are you wearing your hearing protectors today?" 
  • Pre-engagement: By making it a joint effort, engagement is stimulated. For example, let your employees become part of a hearing protection promotion team.

Attractive

  • Warnings: By clearly communicating the negative consequences of not using hearing protection, you ensure that people become more aware of the dangers. 
  • Information: By informing your employees about the consequences of actions in the past, involvement and awareness grow. For example, show your employees the percentage of people with hearing damage in the workplace and how those figures change over time. 

Timely 

  • Reminders: Reminders via SMS or app before the start of work ensure that fewer people forget to put in keep in their hearing protectors. 
  • Transparency: Clear and frequent communication on the positive benefits of using hearing protection ensures that the message gets through. For example, let your employees know that hearing damage in the workplace has been reduced because of better practices in wearing the hearing protection. 

"A nudge can be achieved through communication or through some subtle adjustments in the physical environment"

 

So, you can nudge very well in the communication with your employees by focusing on the social norm, appealing to their ego, asking about their intentions or by providing transparent information. In addition, the push in the right direction can often be realized by just a few subtle adjustments to the physical environment. For instance, by placing signs in strategic places in your company that remind your employees to wear their hearing protection or that warn them of the danger of noise damage. You can also put stickers on the floor with a picture of hearing protection as a reminder. 

Nudging can be very successful in achieving behavioral changes, but only if the nudge is good. And as simple as implementation can be, a campaign to improve the consistent wearing of hearing protection in the workplace is only effective if it is based on a solid understanding of the techniques and factors that determine the behavior of your employees. 

Written by: Peter Weijl, Sales Manager Industry & PPE Comfoor|Plugger|Akouz