Changing behaviours. It’s a piece of cake.

28th January 2020

I don’t know about you, but I can’t resist a fluffy slice of Victoria sponge cake. Never have. But it’s not a sponge cake I want to talk to you about. It’s health and safety behaviours.

Eating cake, is an easy analogy I like to use, to explain how we achieve success when it comes to changing behaviours. Not just one time – but every time. This analogy makes crystal clear, some of the influences that I have to contend with, when faced with the sweet stuff.

Without a smidgeon of doubt, I know that cake is bad for me. I understand the countless effects it has on my body. I shouldn’t eat it – but I still do.  A friend of mine, who is a nutritional therapist, has explained very simply, the causes that sugar has on the body. It triggers inflammation, which isn’t good for my arthritis. It sparks an energy rush when I need it – but it isn’t good for my waistline. I’ve also done a vast amount of reading on the subject and feel that my knowledge is ‘unprofessionally proficient’. In other words, I know what I need to know, as a lay person.

So, with all this personal knowledge about why I shouldn’t eat cake – why do I fall at every hurdle? Would upping my education change my opinion? It wouldn’t, no – because I’m already very aware that I shouldn’t be eating as much as I do. The problem is, I find it really hard to have a tiny piece. Just thinking about the stuff, writing this, is impacting on my desire to have some. I’m having to tell myself, that I don’t need to pop to the office café, in search of a sugary delight.

When we’re looking at changing behaviours, there are other factors which we need to understand – such as peer pressure, the environment or issues around habits which we’ve formed. I can set myself goals or targets – such as only eating cake on a Saturday. Or, popping to the shops after I’ve eaten. I also find that writing a shopping list, doing the shopping online or completely avoiding the cake aisle, helps limit the buying. I try to be around people who don’t have a sweet tooth, so I’m not tempted by the peer pressure of ‘go on, one won’t hurt’. All these factors can influence my decision-making process – and in turn, my desire to eat cake – or not.

Putting this into health and safety terms then, if I want to change behaviours, I need to understand the factors which are placing any barriers in the way. Or, enabling the behaviours I absolutely want to see. Leaders are often tasked with setting actions from incident investigations –  and generally, one of these actions will involve arranging further training. And yet, if organisations have employed a capable, competent and experienced workforce, why do they need more training and education to stop them from doing the wrong thing.

By using the cake analogy, the investigator should be asking if the employee really does need further training – or, are there other considerations which we as leaders need to put in place, to ensure our employees are set up to succeed.

If you’d like to find out more, about how we’re successfully changing health and safety behaviours and cultures across global organisations, please get in touch with the Broadhead Global team.

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