For best experience please turn on javascript and use a modern browser!
You are using a browser that is no longer supported by Microsoft. Please upgrade your browser. The site may not present itself correctly if you continue browsing.
After graduating from PPLE College in the Psychology major, Pauline Schwartz pursued a Master's in 'Behaviour Change' at University College London. Today, four years later, she is Principal Solutions Designer at 'MindGym,' deeply immersed in the application of behavioural science in workplace contexts. She spoke to us about how to bring about behavioural change in the workplace, what makes a good meeting culture and which trends are here to stay in the world of work.
Portrait of PPLE graduate Pauline Schwartz
Pauline Schwartz

Your daily business evolves around understanding and changing human behaviour. How has your interdisciplinary PPLE background influenced your approach in your work?

Behaviour change in itself is a very interdisciplinary field. Understanding and promoting behaviour change often requires a holistic approach that, besides psychology, usually involves insights and contributions from many different fields, such as sociology, economics, public health, and other disciplines. For example, in projects aimed at promoting health-conscious behavior, we might seek input from healthcare professionals, in order for our team of solution designers and graphic designer to develop interventions that are both effective and compelling. PPLE taught me how to collaborate and merge insights from different disciplines right from the beginning, which continues to be a valuable asset in my current work.

How do you approach behaviour change in the work context?

We always start by researching what behavioural themes and obstacles are at play in the company to identify effective intervention points. Based on a framework by Michie et al. (2011), these interventions typically focus on three key aspects: capability, opportunity, and motivation.

When addressing capability, we may offer trainings or skill-building initiatives to enable members of the organisation, e.g. developing leaders and managers. Enhancing opportunity can involve, for example, aligning policies, procedures, and environmental factors to make it easier for employees to adopt desired behaviours. This can include changes to hiring policies, onboarding protocols, feedback communication, or even physical adjustments in the workplace.

Motivation is a multifaceted aspect that can go so far as to impact the overall organisational culture. Part of this can be leadership development, training leaders to motivate and engage teams through effective communication, goal setting, and feedback. Additionally, structural and cultural changes, such as providing employees with a greater voice in company matters or promoting inclusivity throughout the organisation, can impact motivation greatly.

Can you give an example of a recent case in which you effectively changed behaviour in a company?

For instance, with one of our clients, a multinational financial organization, we were tasked with simplifying operations and reshaping the culture to instil a deeper sense of engagement and responsibility within the company. During the research phase, we found that the way meetings were conducted presented a notable barrier for employers.

We discovered a prevailing sentiment among employees who often find themselves in meetings without a clear sense of purpose. Many express the feeling that their calendars are clogged with meetings, leaving them with the sense of being shuffled from one session to another without truly understanding why their presence was required. This not only leads to a loss of valuable work hours, but people also mentally check out. It leads to a sense of disconnect and hinders their ability to commit and actively contribute to the company's course.

That's why we initiated new company-wide habits around meetings, which we are gradually implementing among more than 200,000 employees globally. This habit stacking includes, for example, clearly stating at the beginning of each meeting what the reason and specific objective of the meeting is and why the individual participants are present, as well as establishing follow-up actions to maintain accountability and drive tangible outcomes.

Instilling these practices in a company of this magnitude was indeed a challenge, one that MindGym willingly embraced. As soon as around 60% of the teams adopted these new meeting habits, the effects became tangible.

What's truly exciting is the anecdotal feedback from employees, for example saying that they now have eight additional hours of effective worktime per week thanks to the new companywide meeting habits. They express a newfound sense of clarity in meetings: understanding their purpose, grasping the bigger picture, and feeling greater ownership of their work and a stronger connection to the company’s collective mission. To think how changing these little things, one meeting at a time, can create such a big shift - it’s really great to see.

To top it all off, our work on this project was recently recognised by the British Association of Business Psychology with awards in three categories: Excellence in Learning and Development, Excellence in Innovation and the Chair's Choice Award.

What current trend do you see in organisations that young graduates entering the work life should know about?

I think there are three major trends that are really setting the tone for young professionals entering the workforce at the moment.

One of the most significant shifts is the ongoing exploration of hybrid work models since the pandemic. Companies are still seeking the delicate balance between maintaining a strong, cohesive culture while also allowing for flexibility. It's been a few years since this 'experiment' began, and the journey continues as organizations evolve and adapt.

Genuine inclusivity goes beyond mere statistics—it's about creating a culture where everyone feels valued, heard, and psychologically safe"

Secondly, prompted by events like the George Floyd protests and the Black Lives Matter movement, there's a significant push for greater equity, diversity, and inclusivity in the workplace. It's crystal clear now that this isn't just a passing fad; it's a fundamental shift in how companies hire, communicate, cultivate their values and public image, and provide concrete opportunities. Genuine inclusivity goes beyond mere statistics—it's about creating a culture where everyone feels valued, heard, and psychologically safe, where people feel they can be creative, are allowed to make mistakes, and be their genuine self. It’s really an all-people job, however, leaders and managers undoubtedly play a pivotal role in spearheading the efforts to foster an inclusive culture.

Lastly, a trend gaining considerable traction is the emphasis on workplace well-being. As younger generations like Gen Z enter the workforce, there's a revaluation of what constitutes a healthy work environment. It's not just about token gestures like offering just another yoga class; it's about understanding how work itself can be adapted to support overall well-being.

What would be your advice to graduates entering the word of work right now?

My advice would be to get a better understanding of what truly matters to you and what you need to not only work productively, but also to enjoy work. Are you at your best in a bustling office, or do you need a balanced mix with some remote workdays? Are you someone who wants to put all the focus into your career with 60+ hour workweeks, or do you value work-life balance? Is it important to you that you learn a lot of new things in your work, or do you enjoy the satisfaction of ticking items off a to-do list? Do you favour practical thinking or conceptual thinking? There will always be some trade-offs to be made, so identifying a few key priorities can help  when looking and applying for positions.

I learned that the end of formal studying doesn’t need to be the end of learning

And lastly, reflecting on my journey, entering the professional world felt intimidating initially, but it turned out to be extremely rewarding. I learned that the end of formal studying doesn’t need to be the end of learning, and the end of the good old uni days doesn’t mean the end of building meaningful or inspiring connections. It’s fine to not have everything figured out immediately and it might need some experimenting to get it right. Try to trust your instincts and the process.