Workplace Psychology Phenomenon

by Adrian Wright
(London, UK)

My company makes a security awareness product that requires employeees to read and acknowledge policies. It then tests employee knowledge via multiple-choice questionnaires to verify their understanding or to qualify them as ‘approved persons’ from a compliance viewpoint.

Recently we have further enhanced the product to provide every user with a personal dashboard, showing how well they are doing in respect of passing the quiz tests etc. This materialises in the form of graduation-style diplomas that the successful shows how many attempts the employee took to pass the test, and their total % score. Futhermore, their personal dashboard display also shows how well they are doing compared to the average scores of their colleagues.

This is where the fun started. In one particular organization that uses this product; learning and passing the quiz tests became a competitive issue almost immediately. Overnight we went from a disinterested and resistant employee population – to having so many people trying to take the tests that the main server became overloaded!

Clearly, if this a repeatable phenomenon, then by exploiting the same behavioural characteristics that gave us the above result, we might be able to dramatically improve employee engagement on a whole range of compliance or safety related activities.

From my non-psychologist layman’s perspective I feel there are three forces at work here;

1. Fear of/shame of visibly coming last, or getting the lowest result.

2. Competitive or vanity drive to be first, or be seen to achieve the highest score.

3. Work consequences of the above, e.g. good/bad results being brought up at appraisal or redundancy time.

This is where I am out of my depth as not being a psychologist, I lack the terminology or reference material to take these concepts and progress them into a white paper or study programme to help us and the business community improve compliance.

Do you happen to know if there is a study or reference material that describes the above psychlogical forces at work?

Many thanks again for your advice.

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Aug 02, 2009
Work Psychology
by: David

Hi Adrian

Really interesting submission.

There are lots of examples of work based initiatives resulting in spontaneous competition among employees. You might want to take a look at the classic goal setting literature of Edwin A Locke

You might also want to take a look at the page dedicated to work psychology here on the website (see following link).

Occupational Psychology

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