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Ask Our Expert: Using Behavioral Economics to Help Employees Make Smarter Choices

John MosesBehavioral economics is an emerging field that offers real world insight into people's day-to-day behavior on what guides them to make decisions, both good ones and bad ones. It uses new methods to predictably engage, educate and motivate individuals to make more informed and cost-effective decisions.

To answer your questions on what behavioral economics methods can be used to change behavior, we've asked our expert John Moses, PhD, Aon Hewitt's communication behavioral thought leader, to share his insights. If you'd like to ask a question about behavioral economics or any other pressing human resources challenges you might be facing, e-mail us. We'll share responses to select questions on a regular basis.

Question: What methods do you use in behavioral economics to change employee behavior?

Answer: There are many possible approaches, but here are five behavioral economic tactics you can use to motivate change with employees and their families.

1. Framing — determining if it is more motivating to focus people on what would be gained by taking a specific action or by focusing on what could be lost by not taking a specific action (for example, when describing surgical outcomes, do doctors focus on survival rates or mortality rates).

2. Availability — leverages the premise the more we hear about something or see it, the more likely we are to believe it might occur. So, if someone only hears about the risk of diabetes once a year, they could believe that it would be unlikely for them to become diabetic, even though the risk could be high.

3. Social norms — social networking approaches, either in-person or electronically, that create communities of social support and systems of accountability, across families, friends and coworkers.

4. Choices — too many options to choose from can create confusion and decision-making paralysis. Limit the number of options so that the choices offered are meaningful and differentiated, not overwhelming.

5. Channel factors — the more specific the directions on "how to" do something, the more likely it will be that the action will be taken. People will be less likely to get confused or to make a wrong turn.

These are just a few behavioral economic tactics available for us to use. The reality is that people may need a "nudge" to help them make the right decisions. These can take the form of plan designs, financial incentives, or marketing and messaging, or removing barriers. Some of these tactics motivate by making actions more relevant to people (e.g., framing, availability, social norms). The importance of taking the action is made salient. Other tactics motivate by making action easier (e.g., limiting the number of choices or providing channel factors). The ease of taking action is highlighted. Additionally, we need to remove as many barriers as possible — financial, administrative, etc. — to facilitate the right actions. Always look for ways to make things relevant and easy. You don't need to scrap what you've been doing, but you can reallocate and supplement your efforts with these approaches and tactics to rejuvenate your behavior change efforts.

For more information on upcoming events discussing behavioral economics, visit

About Our Expert
John Moses is a principal at Aon Hewitt. He leads the Communication Consulting team in the Northeast region, and serves as Aon Hewitt's communication behavior change thought leader. John works with clients on behavior change strategies, especially regarding healthcare.

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