How science can encourage employees to follow work policies

2 min read

How does it feel when you send out a new memo or policy at work? I’m sure that as the writer, you feel very vulnerable or self-conscious.

Why? You were writing to ensure that your memo communicates clearly and at the same time, you wanted to persuade your employees to follow them. That’s a lot to put on your memo’s shoulder. I’d like to give you a tip on how to make your policies and memos easier to implement.

Here’s the Science

In the book “Influence” by Robert Cialdini, I came across the Copy Machine Study where a research assistant would look for someone in line to use a photocopy machine. He would then walk over and ask them one of these questions:

  • Scenario 1 (request only): “Excuse me, I have 5 pages. May I use the Xerox machine?”
  • Scenario 2 (request with a real reason): “Excuse me, I have 5 pages. May I use the xerox machine, because I’m in a rush?”
  • Scenario 3 (request with a fake reason): “Excuse me, I have 5 pages. May I use the xerox machine, because I have to make copies?”

I found scenario 3 hilarious because if you look at the reason given, it didn’t even make sense. However, the results are astounding:

  • Scenario 1: 60 percent of people let the researcher skip the line.
  • Scenario 2: 94 percent of people let the researcher skip ahead in line.
  • Scenario 3: 93 percent of people let the researcher skip ahead in line.

This study became famous because it scientifically proves that people will follow requests more if a reason is given. As Robert Cialdini explains, “A well-known principle of human behavior says that when we ask someone to do us a favor we will be more successful if we provide a reason. People simply like to have reasons for what they do.”

So how do you apply this to your memos?

At the start of a memorandum, you should give a quick update of the situation which brought about this memo. Next, and the most important part, you should give a reason why the employees should follow it.

Warning though, it should not be as simplistic as “You follow this or you’re fired!” or “I’m the boss, so what I say goes!”

The study says the reason itself may not be important, but to be on the safe side, provide something relevant that makes sense. Make it more humane by making the reason about the benefits or how it could help everyone make the workplace a better place to be in.

For example, a memo flow may go like this:

“Guys, let’s all wear the ID’s. Why? It makes it easier for the security department to identify which people are allowed to be in the places where they should be. Remember how the warehouse was robbed last month? Yes, that was the result of unauthorized people roaming around the area. So, for everyone’s safety, let’s wear the ID’s, ok?”

So here’s my challenge: Spice up your next policy or memo using this tip and let me know how it works out.

Discipline Policy