What is behavioural science at work?

Emma Weber

I spotted that the CIPD in the UK were running a “Behavioural Science at Work” Conference in September this year. Too far to travel for me this time but with my reason for being all about creating behavioural change after learning, of course this piqued my interest!

With sessions such as “Developing Successful Leaders” with behavioural science and “Implementing Effective and Brain-Friendly Change Management” – it looks to be a great event.

It got me thinking – what really is behavioural science and how is it affecting the world?

Put simply, good ol’ Google tell us that “Behavioural Science” is the study of “human habits, actions and intentions” spanning the fields of psychology, HR, economics and organisational behaviour.

The world economic forum have written about how behavioural science is going to change our lives. For one, behavioural science will help HR de-bias recruitment – simply the choice of words in job adverts can put different genders off applying respectively.

Research from the CIPD offers some critical advice on how understanding the behavioural science of HR can lead to happier healthier employees. One of their points is around reward and recognition schemes – it’s not all about financial incentives and by understanding what really makes people tick HR can create more effective remuneration schemes.

A TED talk from Alex Laskey claims he has been running the largest behavioural science experiment in the world for the last 5 years. By motivating people to save energy by learning what their neighbours spend on their energy they have created savings of US$250 million on energy bills and massively contributed to reduce energy consumption.

It seems behavioural insights have been gaining traction in many industries, and governments are no exception. The Decision Lab are a leading publication in the behavioural science space. They talk about how behavioural science is quietly revolutionising governments – referencing ex-UK prime minister David Cameron’s world first “Behavioural Insights Team” which ended up saving the government over $386 million in the first two years. Under Obama’s presidency the US also set up a “Social and Behavioural Sciences Team” which has had such successes as increasing enrolment in a retirement program for  service members by 67%.

It seems behavioural science is really start to gain some traction in the industry – with the CIPD conference now in it’s third year,. It’s clear L&D and HR professionals can really benefit from a deeper understanding of what drives behaviour in the workplace.

I will certainly be keeping an eye on the social media backchannel and any videos or blogs from this CIPD “Behavioural Science at Work” Conference to keep abreast of trends.

If you’re keen to do a behaviour change experiment for your learning initiative and be a bit of a behaviour scientist yourself – contact us to find out how. 


Emma Weber

Emma Weber is a recognized authority on the transfer of learning. As CEO of Lever – Transfer of Learning, she has helped companies such as Telstra, Oracle and BMW deliver and measure tangible business results from learning. Emma has also been a guest speaker at learning effectiveness conferences worldwide and authored the hugely successful book Turning Learning into Action. Much more detail around the issues and solutions examined in this article are available in the book – please feel free to download a free chapter.