Using Nudging to Change Workplace Behaviors

Using Nudging to Change Workplace Behaviors
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Nudging to Change Workplace Behaviors
The idea of nudging to change workplace behaviors has been gathering steam.  According to Nobel Economist Richard Thaler, “a nudge is any aspect of the choice architecture that alters people’s behavior in a predictable way without forbidding any options or significantly changing their economic incentives. To count as a mere nudge, the intervention must be easy and cheap to avoid. Nudges are not mandates. Putting the fruit at eye level counts as a nudge. Banning junk food does not.”

What We Like About Nudging to Change Workplace Behaviors
Having worked on many successful and some not so successful change initiatives over the last 25 years, we know that humans are not always rational.  We were immediately attracted to the idea that you can better change workplace behaviors through smart choice architecture rather than top-down imperatives based upon only urgency and logic. Based upon our experiences with large and small scale change, it makes sense to us that “easy, attractive, social and timely” options will promote a greater likelihood of behavior change.

Examples of Nudging to Change Workplace Behaviors

  • Improving Employee Health
    Instead of mandating what kind of food will be in your cafeteria, you could start by offering healthy food that is easier to reach, less expensive, and more attractively displayed than less healthy options. You can also make the healthy choice more socially acceptable by adding nutrition information to all food choices.  Schools that have adopted these approaches have reported an 18% increase in sales of healthy foods.
  • Making 401k Contributions
    Most people report wanting to put more money aside for retirement, but they become hesitant by potentially complicated and time consuming decisions. In a recent study by the National Bureau of Economic Research of 14,000 employees, the simple act of changing the choice from Opt-In to Opt-Out (not an expensive or elaborate change) increased 401k contributions by 55%.
  • Donating Organs
    Similar to 401k contributions, countries that make organ donation a default choice have up to three times more organ donations (85-90%) compared to countries that make people Opt-In (25-30%).
  • Using Urinals
    One of our clients runs an industrial cleaning and maintenance service for large aerospace, healthcare and government municipalities. The more they can encourage their clients to keep a clean workplace on their own, the more they can invest in value-added services with higher margins.  In 2009, the Amsterdam airport installed stickers in urinals giving men something to aim for.  Amazingly, this simple nudge reduced spillages by 80%.
  • Anchoring Menu Choices
    Restaurants have been using choice architecture for years to promote higher average spend per customer.  For example, most restaurants have one very expensive entrée and wine on their menu.  This enables the second most expensive item on the menu to seem like a relative bargain.  How often do you select the second most expensive glass of wine?

How You Can Use Nudging to Change Workplace Behaviors
What if you want Sales and Marketing to cooperate more effectively together?  Or how do you ensure your culture becomes more customer centric?  What if you want to increase team accountability?

Sure, you could dictate the “what” and the ‘how”, but you are unlikely to get much positive response.  After all, your sales and marketing teams have been at odds for years, your company has been purposefully treating customers transactionally to decrease your cost of service, and your goals are not clear enough to truly hold people accountable.

If you want to use nudging to change workplace behaviors, think about how you can influence choices by making your desired behavior changes easy, attractive, social and timely.

The Bottom Line
“Nudging” appears to be more successful than taking a heavy-handed approach to mandating change or restricting choice.  Invest the time to determine how you can gently nudge people toward desired behaviors through smart choice architecture.  Are you ready to test the “nudge” theory at your organization by making the desired new behaviors easier, more appealing, and more socially accepted than the alternatives?

To learn more about how change leaders leverage organizational structure, download 5 Science-Backed Lenses of Change Leadership

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