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Lessons for COVID-19 – Part 6: Strategies to influence behaviour during a pandemic


Part 6: Decisions and trade-offs now & into the future

As businesses continue to create and evolve their plans in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Mapien’s Isaac Baker has been helping with strategies and techniques to drive behaviour change during this uncertain time.

In this his 6th article on the subject, he offers a reminder of an important consideration for making decisions for your short and long term futures.  Thus, this blog will have a different flavour to the previous articles in his seven part series (so far Isaac has covered shifting behaviourcreating a shared social identityupdated and refreshed social norms, flexibility & optionality when making decisions, and sense-making).

Writing this article, it is late May and Australia seems to have overcome the first, and hopefully final, wave of COVID-19. For many businesses, a sense of normalcy has begun to return, or is at least on the horizon.

Now is an ideal time to reflect upon the consequential fact that our decisions intertemporal, replete with trade-offs between the short and long term future considerations and rewards.

How we weigh, balance, and process these trade-offs are influential in informing decisions around strategies returning to work/the office and achieving valued business goals. These strategies must consider and balance the immediate pros and cons against longer term pros and cons.

To add complexity to the equation, this is a multivariate problem where there are many (and often conflicting) goals, values, and preferences.

The question then becomes how do we choose between outcomes over time & process these trade-offs?

Much of the behavioural economic school of thought highlights the roles of rules of thumb, heuristics, and habits in informing many decisions.

However, there are other thinking processes we can draw upon, which are characterised by a thorough and reflective decision-making process.

Research by Bulley & Schacter (2020) expound the role of deliberation in informing our decisions. Deliberation implicates thinking about our future and our own thinking.


Deliberation need not necessarily lead to a decision that is more long-term oriented (i.e., seen by some as more “patient”). Why? Because people can anticipate their future state and desires (e.g., disappointment) if they do not engage in a more immediate experience or reward. What is typically viewed as being short-sighted may actually be the result of thoughtful reflection about current and future states.

Further, the current economic and business landscape is still quite uncertain. In uncertain environments, people may not expect longer term benefits to materialise. Thus, people may find it more reasonable to favour shorter term benefits as it feels more certain and can ensure shorter term satisfaction (or business survival).

As you no doubt experience, there is a dynamic see-sawing balance of shorter term (dis)pleasure against longer term, potentially greater, (dis)pleasure.

Although maintaining agility and flexibility during turbulent and opaque periods is important, it is also worthwhile ensuring decisions align with longer term goals and objectives. We may have to sacrifice shorter term pleasure to reap longer term gains; conversely, we may endure shorter term pain to avoid greater longer term pain.

Deliberation of these trade-offs is crucial to optimising the balance between decisions that allow short and long term survival and thriving.

There are no concrete, prescriptive answers here. Why? Because the solution is highly contextual and specific to your circumstances.

Your ideal path is maximising gains and minimising losses over the short and long term periods.

Connect with us...

Our team of organisational psychologists and behavioural scientists make use of scientifically validated methodologies and tools to optimise decisions to help navigate this optimal path. If you want to learn more and start a conversation, please reach out to Isaac Baker here.

This article is Part 6 in a 7 Part series applying behavioural insights to drive behaviour change in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Contact us today and one of our Mapien workplace strategists will be in touch within 24 hours.

Isaac Baker
Isaac has a thorough understanding of the science of human behaviour and creates effective, specialised interventions to solve complex people problems.