Harnessing insights from behavioural science to improve business
Why do people engage in behaviours that are harmful to themselves, others and the environment? These behaviours include everything from out-of-control spending to unhealthy eating and unsustainable consumption.
More importantly, if we discover what’s triggering these destructive behaviours, are we able to create interventions and other strategies that can improve personal, societal and environmental well-being?
That’s the mission driving Schulich’s Well-Being Research Lab (WiRL), led by Professor Nicole Mead, a leading scholar in the field of consumer research. The WiRL is made up of an inter-disciplinary research team that is using novel insights from social science research to improve personal and social well-being, primarily by designing and testing simple and effective interventions that can improve behaviours.
In this month’s column by Professor Mead, we look at some of the research projects taking place at the lab – everything from how consumers search for meaning in the marketplace to consumers’ willingness to go green. The column also touches on the subject of how productivity and well-being – often thought of as being diametrically opposed to one another – can actually be enhanced through a simple change to the way we think.
I encourage you discover how the Well-Being Research Lab at Schulich is harnessing insights from human behaviour to help businesses improve the lives of their customers and the world we all live in.
Detlev Zwick, PhD
Dean, Tanna H. Schulich Chair in Digital Marketing Strategy
Schulich School of Business
Business and Well-Being: Two Sides of the Same Coin
The pandemic supercharged people’s search for what’s truly important to them. This pursuit of meaning has turned business upside down, changing who people want to work for – the great resignation – and which companies they want to do business with – the great re-evaluation. At the core, this quest is about seeking ways of life that promote well-being.
Organizations have noticed. There is a rise in Chief Purpose Officers and Chief Well-Being Officers to figure out how firms can better connect with their stakeholders. But purpose beyond profit is easier said than done. As only one example, the majority of consumers say they want to buy from sustainable companies who match their values, yet only the minority follow through with their wallets.
At the Well-Being Research Lab (WiRL) we believe in the power of business to transform people, society, and the earth for the better. We equally believe that behavioral science is needed to help organizations achieve that aim. That’s why WiRL’s interdisciplinary team works with organizations to uncover novel answers to questions about how to improve the lives of people and the planet. What does it mean when people say they are looking for purpose and meaning, and how can businesses better position themselves for success? Why are customers reluctant to pay more for sustainable goods, and how can that knowledge help companies become more sustainable? And how can we help people flourish so that they can be the best versions of themselves? Without scientifically backed answers to those questions, it’s easy for companies to misstep. We take a comprehensive approach to well-being (mental, emotional, physical, financial, and professional) but here’s a sample of recent developments; get in touch to learn more.
There is a lot of talk about purpose, but little understanding of what people want when they look for it in the marketplace. Our recently published research (with Lawrence Williams at University of Colorado Boulder) revealed a surprising answer: when people search for meaning they focus on opportunity costs – what else they can do with their money, time, and energy. So instead of figuring out how your company can provide your stakeholders with meaning, offer them instead opportunities to save their scarce resources for other meaningful pursuits. This is a key reason employees are resistant to go back to the office: if they don’t have to commute, they have more time and energy to devote to meaningful endeavors, such as connecting with loved ones or working on hobbies.
In ongoing work, we find that consumers’ willingness to go green depends on their perceptions of the broader social climate, the social contract. This is timely as polls and opinion pieces alike suggest that the social contract may be fraying in Canadian cities. When people think the social contract is strong, we find that they act and buy in sustainable ways. For example, instead of buying cheap environmentally unfriendly options, they pay more for green products; instead of taking the car, they walk or hop on public transportation. However, when people think the social contract is weak, they go back to the easy, non-sustainable patterns of living. Hence, to solve the climate crisis, it is imperative that all members of society work to support the social contract. But it also suggests that, since perceptions are what matters, even in the midst of a fraying social contract, people’s beliefs can be propped up so they will still go green.
With Jennifer Aaker (Stanford University) and Jesse Walker (Ohio State University), we are studying how productivity and well-being can be enhanced by a simple tweak to our mindset. Instead of treating beauty and productivity as incompatible, we can increase productivity through the cultivation of a beautiful mindset and beautiful moments. We can focus on the small, common, beautiful parts of our everyday lives, such as the taste of the coffee or the sound of the birds. But we can also endeavor to complete our day-to-day tasks in a more beautiful way and, by virtue of doing so, become happier and more productive.
The stakes have never been higher for business to become a force for positive change. At WiRL, we’re using behavioral science to help this aim become a reality.
Associate Professor of Marketing
Founder & Director, Well-Being Research Lab