Behavioral Interventions for Labor-Related Programs

Behavioral Insights Increase Participation, Improve Outcomes
Apr 28, 2016

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Behavioral insights can improve the performance and outcomes of U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) programs, according to three briefs released today by DOL and Mathematica Policy Research. Looking to increase employer responsiveness to citations and reduce the number of cases that require follow-up, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) worked with behavioral science and evaluation specialists to develop and test changes to its citation process in selected locations. Under the new process, employers were 3.9 percentage points more likely to respond to their local OSHA office by signing informal settlements, contesting their citations, or paying fines. 

Two additional briefs show similar findings. First, a targeted email designed using insights from behavioral science helped the Employee Benefits Security Administration convince more federal employees to increase their contributions to the Thrift Savings Plan—a retirement account similar to the 401(k) plans offered in the private sector. Second, a Michigan workforce agency used a series of emails informed by behavioral principles to engage more Unemployment Insurance claimants with their state’s Reemployment and Eligibility Assessment (REA) Pilot Program. Seventy-one percent of those who received the messages scheduled an REA session, compared with only 55 percent of those who did not get the messages. Email recipients were also 14 percentage points more likely to complete the program.

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“This first round of findings shows that behavioral insights can help program administrators make changes that yield better results for programs or program components that are falling short. And these strategies can be rigorously tested quickly and at low cost. I’d say that’s pretty noteworthy,” said Irma Perez-Johnson, senior researcher and project director at Mathematica.

DOL launched Behavioral Interventions for Labor-Related Programs to identify opportunities for using behavioral insights or “nudges” to address high-priority problems in labor programs and to assess whether these strategies lead to better outcomes. The project is sponsored by DOL’s Chief Evaluation Office and draws insights from behavioral economics, psychology, and related fields. Mathematica’s partners include ideas42, the W.E. Upjohn Institute, and Michigan Works! 

Read all three issue briefs to learn more about this project.


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  • image of brain
    Behavioral Interventions for Labor-Related Programs

    The U.S. Department of Labor is collaborating with Mathematica and ideas42 to apply behavioral science principles to selected programs. Studies suggest that relatively modest changes to program materials, forms, or procedures can generate substantial improvements in program outcomes and performance.

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