What do social norms have to do with engagement?

by Sep 23, 2022

Which statement is more likely to elicit excitement?  

  1. 85% of colleagues have signed up for the wellness program! 
  2. Don’t be the 15% who haven’t signed up yet!  

If your answer is #1, there’s a reason for that. 

What are social norms?

A 2012 Harvard Business Review article explored the power of social norms and how we communicate those norms to the masses. According to the author, “People’s behavior is largely shaped by the behavior of those around them — what behavioral scientists call social norms. In particular, people are often motivated by their desire to conform with the group, especially if it’s a group with which they identify.”

Albeit an oldie but a goodie, the article’s takeaway is timeless and applies more than ever in today’s over-stimulated world. And these insights go beyond simply talking about human behavior; this knowledge highlights that social norms are a result of human behavior. One informs the other.

Related: Flexibility is the new “office perk”

Highlighting social norms

Back to the example in the beginning — which statement elicits a greater feeling of FOMO? Does one better represent a social norm that you want to be a part of? The answer is probably obvious, because essentially social norms are just that: creating a feeling of informal shared behavior (read: grocery store lines or taking turns at a four-way stop) that is acceptable for a certain group. As the wise Aristotle pointed out, “Humans are inherently social creatures” — we subconsciously yearn to connect with other like-minded humans. Statement #1 likely resonates with you because it doesn’t “shame” the reader; instead, it inclusively applauds those who have taken action. 

Related: How to incorporate social determinants of health into your benefits strategy

TL; DR: Here are five ways to highlight positive social norms around your business in a productive way … and hopefully encourage enrollment and engagement in wellness solutions, health benefits, and more as a result. 

Promote the positive 

No one wants to be “threatened” for not engaging in a program, and no one wants to be “shamed” for feelings of burnout either. HBR cites a near 10% increase in responses when tax authorities used positive statistics over condescending messaging to get citizens to pay taxes. Instead of: “You only have six days left to sign up,” try: “65% of colleagues have signed up so far.” 

Encourage persistency 

Don’t just tell your teams that Wellness Champions and/or HR are available to help. Rather, encourage them to follow up on an inquiry if their initial email or message goes unanswered. They’re busy because they’re helping, not because they don’t value you. (Of course, the onus is also shared with your wellness and HR teams to respond!) Instead of: “HR is here to help,” try: “After you reach out to HR, follow up if you don’t hear back within a week.” 

Display the majority 

What’s one area that gets the most engagement? If the bulk of employees are crushing steps challenges, benefiting from coaching, or signing up for EAP (Employee Assistance Program) services, use those numbers to highlight the social norm around those participation points. Instead of: “You’re missing out on a lot of our available perks,” try: “90% of employees have benefited from our EAP.”  

Publicly share survey results 

Are you polling employee base to gauge satisfaction and interest in your offerings? Don’t review the numbers and move on; share the results! For every 20% that isn’t satisfied, there’s 80% that is. For every 70% that doesn’t use the wellness platform, there’s a 30% that does, and there’s a majority in that 30% that is seeing positive results from participating. Instead of: “30% completed our survey,” try:” 70% shared that they’re satisfied with our wellness offerings.” 

Use absolutes 

According to HBR, this approach “can encourage people to take part even without specific evidence that most others have already joined in.” This works well if participation results are impressive, but perhaps the number of people participating is dwindling. Don’t focus on the small amount of people; instead, highlight the progress that small group has made together! Instead of: “Ten employees have completed our latest wellness challenge,” try: “50,000 steps were logged during our last wellness challenge. 

Sonic Boom is not only an enthusiastic expert in engagement and helping you promote wellness programs (Sonic Boom-related or not), but we’re also passionate about spotlighting that these social norms are human behavior. It’s all about how you talk about them. You can receive more information here about what we offer and how we can help.