The Psychology Behind Blissbook

Blissbook feels like the best way to present a handbook to employees … but why? Does it really reduce risk and help employees feel valued? If so, how does it work?

We use a variety of techniques rooted in behavioral psychology to reduce the risk of litigation, improve compliance, and encourage employee engagement.

Persuasion

In his book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, originally published in 1984, Robert Cialdini outlined 6 universal principles of influence: Reciprocation, Commitment and Consistency, Social Proof, Liking, Authority, and Scarcity. A Blissbook handbook uses 3 of these, plus another Robert describes in 2016 – Unity – to influence employees to read & sign your policies, be more engaged, and be less litigious.

Reciprocation

If you give someone something, they’ll want to return the favor. It’s human nature.

A user-friendly, branded handbook shows employees they’re valued as humans, not just as cogs in the company machine. Employees will recognize your efforts to go above and beyond a drab 60-page legal document, will see this as a nice gesture, and will feel compelled to reciprocate the courtesy.

This reciprocity may show up as them reading the handbook more thoroughly (or at all), signing it more quickly with fewer questions, or having a more positive (read: less litigious) attitude towards your company in general.

Commitment and Consistency

Being consistent requires less mental energy, which means that once we’ve asserted our opinion on something, our subsequent choices usually affirm that stance.

If employees must take action to indicate they’ll abide by your company’s policies (e.g signing an acknowledgement form), they’re more likely to follow through and behave accordingly. Unfortunately, this doesn’t work with a standard handbook. If comprehension of your policies requires a law degree, employees aren’t actually committing to anything with their signature – they’re just completing a task.

For the commitment and consistency heuristic to apply, you need to jolt employees out of this task completion mindset and get them to make the mental leap to understanding that their signature represents a commitment to future behavior.

The best jolt is a surprise. When it comes to an employee handbook, an unexpected experience means not giving someone many pages of boring paragraphs of black text on a white background. Use images, colors, and backgrounds. Start with “why” by creating a narrative beginning with why your company exists and why employees should care. If you’re using Blissbook, hide those boring paragraphs of text behind “read more” buttons.

It won’t work on everyone, but those who make the leap will be more compliant with your policies.

Liking

People are more likely to respond positively when an idea or message comes from a source they consider likable. The message and the messenger matter.

Employees who like your company are more likely to adhere to policies and are less likely to litigate. The lesson: put effort into getting employees to like your company.

You can use your employee handbook to encourage liking from day one. To make reading and signing it a positive experience (not “read this legal document about all the ways we can fire you”):

  • Detail your company’s mission, values, and the other “whys” of your company to generate an authentic connection.
  • Add design elements and branding so it’s visually appealing and familiar.
  • Ensure that it’s easy to access and use to demonstrate cooperation.

Generating goodwill with friendly policies and a positive handbook experience will extend to all aspects of your employees’ work lives.

Unity

When employees feel united, they feel psychologically safe – like they can be themselves.

Why does your company exist? By clearly communicating your shared mission and values, you can initiate feelings of unity. If your employees feel like a tribe, regardless of level or department, you can create a more harmonious and unified company culture.

You can use the principles of unity to improve compliance, too. Put your mission, values, and other “cultural” information in your employee handbook right before or next to your company policies. It’ll serve as a reminder that you’re all in this together and that the policies are there for the betterment of the entire tribe.

A united employee is a less litigious and more compliant employee!

Priming

Priming is a relative of branding – the often non-verbal and unwritten message that people experience before or around your actual message.

If your employee handbook looks and feels like a boring legal document that lists all the ways you can fire someone, you’re priming employees to view their employment as a legal transaction between two adversarial parties. You don’t want that!

You want employees to feel like they’re joining a team on a mission that just happens to have some rules around how everyone can work together successfully to achieve that mission.

When it comes to your employee handbook, here are some specific ways to use priming to reduce your litigation risk, improve policy compliance, and increase employee engagement:

  • If your handbook doesn’t look boring, it won’t be boring. Employees will be more likely to read it and will better understand and comply with your policies.
  • Pitching your “why” (your purpose, values, etc.) before you present your policies will prime employees to accept them because your policies are simply manifestations of the beliefs they’ve already chosen to support. The key: make sure your policies don’t contradict your company’s values and culture.
  • You want your employees to like you, so make it easy for them to do so. Photos of happy employees who appear to like your company will prime other employees to feel that way too.

The Peak-End Rule & The Power of Surprise

Because you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression, onboarding greatly influences how employees feel about your company. Companies know this, so they’re often looking for ways to make onboarding more pleasant.

There are parts of onboarding that aren’t exciting; after all, paperwork is paperwork. However, resist the urge to make onboarding glitz and glamour throughout. You can use the peak-end rule to jazz it up strategically.

The peak-end rule means people often evaluate an experience based on how they felt at the most intense point (its peak) and how they felt at its end. If there’s a positive peak and a pleasant end, new employees will be left with a favorable impression.

How can you make a difference with an employee handbook? Unexpectedly branded, user-friendly, and culture-first policies may be a peak part of paperwork drudgery, or you can make it the last thing an employee signs to end the process on a good note.

An unexpectedly non-legal-document-looking handbook is surprising, which makes it more memorable and your company more interesting and likeable. Employees will forget the drudgery part.

Starting With Why

The core purpose of policies or an employee handbook is to influence behavior. At a minimum, to sign the damn acknowledgement form but ideally, to read, understand, and act in accordance with its contents.

The best way to influence the behavior of others is to speak directly to the part of the brain that controls behavior. This part of the brain, the limbic system aka your monkey brain, is driven by emotions, feelings, and instincts. It is not rational!

To speak to this part of the brain, you must use “why” language. Beliefs, values, purpose, etc. You should also use design and branding to prime your audience to be more receptive to your message.

Blissbook encourages you to “start with why” in the beginning of your handbook, and contains many design tools and layouts you can use to highlight your “why” content and drive home how important it is.

Don’t know your why? Figure it out with our eBook: How to Write a Culture-First Employee Handbook.

The Result:

Here’s an actual email an employee at one of our customers sent to their HR Team:

“Thank you so much for this very informative and beautifully presented handbook. As much as it is a handbook, it felt more like reading a beautiful story. I smiled and was touched by it all.”

Does this sound like an employee who wants to sue their company?

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Tom O'Dea

Tom is the CEO of Blissbook and is honored to lead our mission for more inspired employees. He receives tweets at @tom_odea and wishes he could spend a few years eating his way around the world.

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