Meet Web Psychologist, Nathalie Nahaï

Sophie Gane

08/11/2016
Categories: Guest

Author and web psychologist, Nathalie Nahaï, will be hosting our Key Note address at our Winter Client Forum in early 2017. We can’t wait for her to share her expertise on the world of web psychology, and see how we can apply her insights to the world of employee reward and benefits. To give you an idea of what to expect in February, we’ve managed to bribe convince her to answer a few of our questions to get us warmed up…

Tell us a bit about web psychology – in a nutshell; what is it?

It’s the scientific study of how our online environments (such as emails, websites, apps, etc.) influence our attitudes and behaviours.

And what made you want to get into this area of psychology?

After studying Psychology at university, I decided to learn how to design and code websites. While working as a freelance web designer, it became obvious to me that if our physical environments could influence our behaviours, then we might reasonably expect to find similar effects online. When I couldn’t find any books or courses on the subject (UX wasn’t yet an established discipline), I decided to research and write my own.

As you know, we’re all about helping people to enjoy themselves at work. What can you tell us about the psychology behind being engaged for those 40 hours-a-week?

Speaking more generally, it can help if you create a culture in which individuals feel a sense of belonging, that they are respected and valued, and that they are empowered to effect change.

Employee benefits are global; how do cultural differences affect the way in which people use online tools? Tell us a bit about Glocalisation.

Glocalisation, a term borrowed from the Japanese concept of ‘dochakuka’ (which means global localisation), refers to our ability to adapt products to meet the needs of a local market. There is a wealth of research exploring the myriad ways in which culture informs and influences our preferences, values and motivations, and work by psychologists such as Professor Geert Hofstede can help explain why different demographics often behave in divergent ways, both on- and offline.

For instance, in highly collectivist cultures where the needs and wellbeing of the group are deemed of greater importance than those of the individual, users may not take actions that mark them out as unique or ‘other’. In contrast, users from more individualistic cultures will be more likely to perceive and display uniqueness as a way of expressing their values and gaining social status.

Online, this can help explain why some users may post more personal, uniquely identifying information than others, which in turn can raise interesting questions about personalisation and the need to offer users the ability to interact with brands at varying degrees of anonymity.

A lot of your research is around the user’s experience with an online product; tell us about the convergence of a retail experience with an employer brand experience. Is there anything the software/design of the product needs to do to appeal to a wide demographic of employees?

When you’re looking to create positive experiences across a range of demographics and contexts, there are several psychological principles that can apply. One of the most important, is minimising the cognitive load (the total amount of mental effort being used in the working memory) that you are demanding of your users to complete a given task. 

In general, we typically find ‘frictionless’, low-effort experiences (such as making a cup of tea) much easier and more comforting than those that require high effort (filling in your tax return), so where possible, you should factor this into the design of your products and software.

A lot of your research discusses ‘artificial advancement’ as a way of encouraging buyers to use a service. Do you think this sort of technique can also be used to advance wellbeing schemes? For example, can we create an artificial start for someone heading towards a fitness goal?

Yes, this approach can be effective in encouraging wellbeing schemes, and it is something you can see being used successfully by apps such as Headspace (a meditation product). In this instance, before signing up to a paid subscription, you are offered a free, 10-day meditation trial. Once you’ve downloaded the app, if you navigate to the ‘Progress’ section, you’ll find various badges you can earn by hitting ‘Run streak’ targets.

Now, strictly speaking, a run streak should be just that – a series (i.e. more than one) of meditations undertaken consecutively, without missing a day. What actually happens is that you earn your first ‘Run streak’ badge after completing just one session. Although it’s technically not a streak, by experiencing this sense of artificial advancement, you’re likely to feel more motivated to continue with the rest of the programme.

How do you think our culture, which demands instant gratification, can help or hinder the advancement of employee engagement?

It depends – if employees are thwarting longer-term goals, wellbeing and acquisition of skills due to short-term gratification, then it may hinder their advancement. Equally, if the focus is only on long-term outcomes, individuals may not feel they are receiving enough immediate, positive feedback to reinforce their actions. The most effective strategy is likely to include a combination of the two, and it’s a balance that can take some adjustment to get right.

Finally, in what’s becoming a bit of a theme here at Benefex; what’s your favourite chocolate bar?

Oooh! When I fancy some straight-up comfort, it has to be Cadbury’s Fruit and Nut. If I’m feeling like I want something a bit more feisty then it has to be Lindt’s Dark Chilli chocolate.

Nathalie will be joining us at our Client Forum in February. Why not take a look at her website for more information on web psychology, and see what you can do to increase employee engagement.
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