Making behaviour change in the workplace easy, attractive, social and timely

Wondering how to encourage people to recycle better at work or to change people’s habits for using single-use takeaway packaging every lunchtime? Here is a quick insight into some behaviour change principles, summed up in a simple acronym. EAST that you can use for workplace behaviour change.


So before you send another angry email about the recycling contamination or invest in thousands of reusable coffee cups, read this. 


One of the most valuable insights from behavioural psychology is that that much of human behaviour is NOT governed by the rational part of our brain, and in fact our brains are driven with the more primitive drivers that sit in the reptilian and mammal parts of the brain which are hardwired by:  


  • Pleasure and pain avoidance
  • Identity
  • Social acceptance
  • Repetition, habits
  • Family 


If you are looking to deliver behaviour change in the workplace, it is not enough to:


  • Tell people that they are doing something wrong (people experience cognitive dissonance when their behaviours and views of themselves are at odds so they can switch off from your message)
  • Send an email or put up a poster (information deficit and inattentional blindness can mean that messages are not read or even noticed).  
In fact, there are many influences which need to be understood and worked with if we really want behaviours to change such as:



  • The psychological aspects of behaviour in which our brains are pre-disposed to certain defaults, habits and biases 
  • The societal influences and social norms which we conform to in order to fit in with the rest of society 
  • The impact infrastructure objects and tools has on enabling or inhibiting a behaviour. For instance, drinking coffee ‘on-the-go’ has been made significantly easier and therefore become a social norm, only in the last few years, because of the disposable coffee cup. ​


When tackling behaviour change in the workplace, there are a few things to consider, and we would highly recommend doing research, and taking time to get behind the factors that are influencing a behaviour in your workplace by selecting a particular person and journey mapping their day.


But, if you already have taken some steps to address a behaviour and you are wondering why it is not working, then a quick reference guide and checklist is the acronym EAST, a framework developed by the Behavioural Insights team who advise civil servants on behaviour change initiatives. 

EAST stands for Easy, Attractive, Social and Timely
Here are some examples of this could be applied to office recycling and encouraging the use of reusable boxes or coffee cups at lunchtime. 





As our brain looks for the easiest option, so make sure the preferred behaviour is the easiest.


  • This could be by removing the other easy, default options such as under-desk bins, if you want people to recycle or the disposable lunchbox from the canteen. 
  • Alternatively removing the barriers to the behaviour e.g. if people struggle to remember a reusable box or coffee cup at lunchtime, put a box of them by the door.  




Making a behaviour more attractive, means addressing the reasons it may not be desirable because people are very motivated by looking good and even cleanliness. So if a behaviour is perceived to be undesirable, messy or dirty you may well struggle with take-up.


  • It is amazing how many people feel uncomfortable using Tupperware or reusable coffee cups in an office without a dishwasher, due to cleanliness concerns. People don’t even like to use Tea towels!
  • It is also why providing people with good quality, and attractive reusable water bottles and coffee cups will improve take-up over a cheap plastic one which is not attractive or classy- although just providing people with a reusable coffee cup or water bottle is NOT enough to change a behaviour.

​Attractive also refers to the behaviour being rewarded or acknowledged with positive reinforcement





Humans do what other people do, it’s important to work on reinforcing your desirable behaviour as the social norm.



  • This means highlighting how many people are doing the desirable behaviour rather than the undesirable one e.g. highlight the positive recycling achievements rather than the contamination as people will think that there is no point if no-one else is making an effort. 
  • Getting key messengers such as senior leadership and popular people to lead by example 
  • In many offices, people eat from a takeaway box at their desks, because everyone else does and having a lunch break is perceived to be ‘work-shy’ in that office culture. To break this, organising lunchtime socials with senior management in the canteen where everyone uses plates could start to break this down  





Our brains will only comprehend and process information when it is relevant, it filters out a lot of information to avoid overload. So if you want a message to be processed they need to appear at the point that behaviour is being considered.



  • This is why recycling information should be on the top of a bin where people are looking when they wonder where to chuck an item.
  • If you want people remember a reusable lunchbox or coffee cup send them a reminder through your intranet or by email just before lunchtime, not in the morning. 
Want all the insights into Waste and recycling, watch the Waste 101 recording



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