The Effectiveness of Reminders and Nudge Theory on Improving Shift Attendance

One of the prevailing challenges that any temporary staffing agency must tackle is worker attendance. Regardless of industry, after an agency books a worker for a job, there is always a risk that the worker will not attend the shift or cancel at the last minute. This not only damages the reputation of the agency, but also disrupts the client’s plans for the day.

When faced with the challenge of worker reliability, we made a few changes to our worker app to increase attendance rates, such as implementing automated shift reminders. However, in order to maximise effectiveness, the timing and the language of the reminders must be considered.

The timing of the reminders is crucial: Austin et al (1993) conducted a study on the effect of sign prompts on recycling behaviour, and they found that the prompts were the more effective when the signs were placed right above the recycling bins, and most effective when the normal bins were placed right next to the recycling bins. This suggests that prompts and reminders are the most effective when they are presented to the subject at the point of decision making. Applying these findings to try to improve reliability of our workers, we’ve found that a text reminder of their upcoming shift sent 3 hours before the shift time has had a great impact on attendance rates.

The language used in the reminder is also a key factor: Smith and Bennett (1992) found that a combined prompt (with both the specific request and the short-term consequence) was the most effective, compared with a response-specific prompt, a short-term consequence prompt and a long-term consequence prompt.  Therefore, our shift reminders include the phrase “don’t forget your shift today” (the specific request), the shift start and end times, location and job title, but also includes a reminder of the consequences of not showing up or a late cancellation (consequences). This not only reminds the workers of the shift they have booked, but also brings to their attention the consequence of not attending said shift, and hence increasing attendance rates.

Shift reminders are not the only way to bump up attendance rates. Nudge Theory is the idea that positive reinforcement and indirect suggestions can influence behaviour and decision making. ‘Nudges’ can make it more likely that an individual will make a particular choice by altering the environment so automatic cognitive processes are more likely to be triggered to favour the desired outcome. In the design of our worker app, we’ve tried to increase the salience of the desired option to achieve better attendance rates: the salience of the shift (and the benefits of attending the shift) has been increased by having the estimated earnings of each shift on the home screen in a large font. The salience of the ‘cancel shift’ option is also decreased by making the font smaller and harder to locate.

However, the effectiveness of these techniques can have limitations. Linn et al (1994) attempted to increase the purchase of environmentally friendly products by placing tags under products that were environmentally friendly, but they found no effect on purchases. This suggests that prompts are usually the most effective if the person is already predisposed towards a behaviour change, but simply need a reminder, and are best used in conjunction with other interventions as a supporting tool.

With that in mind, there are several additional techniques that we are trialling, such as a visual representation of their reliability scores that’s present on the home screen of the worker app to provide instant feedback or a written declaration to commit to attendance. We also tap into the human tendency to look to the behaviour of other people to help guide their own behaviour, touching on loss aversion.

Of course, we can never fully eliminate the risk of unreliability, but with all of the ongoing research that’s being put into behaviour change and Nudge Theory, we are hoping to be able to identify the best formula to improve attendance rates once and for all.

References:

Austin, J, Hatfield, DB, Grindle, AC & Bailey, JS (1993). Increasing recycling in office environments: the effects of specific, informative cues. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 26, 247-253.

Smith, JM & Bennett, R (1992). Several antecedent strategies in reduction of an environmentally destructive behavior. Psychological Reports, 70, 241-242.

Linn, N, Vining, J, & Feeley, PA (1994). Toward a sustainable society: Waste minimization through environmentally conscious consuming. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 24(17), 1550-1572.

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