Research summary - Improving employer compliance through behavioural insights

Official title: Improving Employer Compliance Through Behavioural Insights
Author of report: Sasha Tregebov (Behavioural Insights Team Canada)

Why this study

The use of behavioural science in policymaking has been a major trend in governments around the world in the last 10 years. The Labour Program wants to understand how behavioural science can help improve employer compliance with:

  • part II (occupational health and safety), and
  • part III (labour standards) of the Canada Labour Code

The goal of this study is to:

  • understand why employers do not comply with their legislative obligations, and
  • find potential interventions based on behavioural science to increase compliance

What we did

Behavioural Insights Team Canada (BIT) is a consulting firm that specializes in behavioural science applications. BIT ran the study and drafted the report. It includes:

  • a scan of literature on cognitive and behavioural barriers to compliance, and
  • a scan of relevant case studies for improving compliance through behavioural approaches

What we found

Why behavioural science is useful to tackle non-compliance

Behavioural science can help to:

  • understand why employers do not comply by looking at cognitive barriers that drive their behaviours, and
  • develop new tools to increase employer compliance with occupational health and safety and labour standards

Literature scan

The literature scan:

  • shows that "automatic" thought processes, using "common sense" and biases can influence the decision made by employers, and
  • finds 9 cognitive and behavioural drivers of non-compliance, including:
    • friction costs: small details that make a task more challenging or effortful, and can make the difference between doing something and putting it off
    • cognitive load: under pressure, people tend to rely on mental shortcuts
      • for example, judging the chance that something will occur based on how easily examples of it come to mind, and
    • social norms: the behaviour of others can often act as a shortcut to determine how one should behave

Case studies

Case studies from the USA, Ontario and Australia show that behavioural interventions can help employers to comply with:

  • workplace health and safety requirements, and
  • labour standards requirements

What it means

The findings suggest that the Labour Program could increase employers' regulatory compliance by designing interventions based on behavioural science.

The traditional understanding of how to increase compliance relies on enforcement and penalties.

Information on cognitive drivers complements our understanding of non-compliance.

The report finds opportunities for the Labour Program to communicate in new ways with employees and employers, in particular with small and medium-sized businesses.

Contact us

Labour Program, Strategic Policy, Analysis and Workplace Information Directorate, Research and Innovation Division


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