Boundmakers Review
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Boundmakers Review

Can we nudge people towards better health and well-being at work?

Nudge means a small push. Behavioural nudging is about creating conditions that induce people to change their behaviour in the desired direction. How can this be useful to organisations and who can implement these nudges? This concept can be especially useful for leaders and can be used to promote people’s health and well-being at work, let’s explore how!

Nudging Theory explores the subtle changes in the environment that cause people to change their behaviour. When employees are aware of a problem/dilemma, this will allow them to more easily choose how to act, although there are also influences from the environment (e.g., peer pressure). However, when there are fewer conscious choices, the impact of the influence of the environment increases significantly. People cannot discern the pros and cons of all their daily decisions because it is cognitively unsustainable. This theory shows that when we change some indirect aspects in the environment, it has strong impacts on our behaviour (e.g., when we change the access people have to healthy food in the company, bringing them closer to them, it will increase their consumption of such food on a frequent and consistent basis).

This is relevant because we live in a complex world and, consequently, we need to make fast and immediate decisions all day long. As a result of the use of technology, we already feel that everything is optimised, however this is not entirely true for all decisions, particularly for group decisions. Nudges simplifies people’s choices by making the necessary changes in the context for the behaviour process to become simpler, but when used in a more planned way nudging can really contribute to improve critical processes in organisations such as health and education. This approach to behaviour change can reinforce the right and beneficial behaviours, by suggesting different actions so that individuals do not have the need to think too hard about everything concerning life-work integration for instances. This process encourages and facilitates the process of change but does not force it, and thus people always have a choice.

Good and effective nudges should be easy, attractive, social and timely. The nudge is actually just a push, sometimes in the physical or social context, or in specific content that is made available at the right moment to trigger an action or specific behaviour and people not often understand that nudges are present. This makes nudging more effective, and the change of behaviour delivers significant and persistent results in people and organisations, such as increasing their wellbeing and decreasing stress.

Nudging has three key aspects, the first is the way how the choices are made (e.g., do people have all the information to make that choice? At the right moment? It is easier to make that choice than others?), the second is that the choice is inevitable, so it is important we design contexts to boost health literacy by default and guide the process of making better decisions to minimize risks. The third is about an aspect that we discussed before — people always have another choice, but we make it easier for them to choose the one who is most beneficial for them.

Objectively, nudges facilitate behavioural change, which is usually difficult because it involves a lot of cognitive effort when it comes to healthy behaviours. This idea seems powerful, however, it is important to note that nudges can be used positively (reinforcing healthier behaviours) or negatively (reinforcing bad behaviours or by using fear). This concept can be used to reinforce healthier behaviours (physically, psychologically and socially), such as reduced consumption patterns, better planning and organisation of work and greater mutual help between colleagues, but organisations must be intentional about nudging to be able to reach these outcomes.

It’s important however to consider that by using nudging in organisations it contributes to more inclusion and diversity in the workplace, as well as more autonomy and motivation to increase the job performance and wellbeing and that it is ensures cost-effectiveness in delivering impact. A very simple example present in a lot of organisations is to create a common area in the office for a coffee or water that encourages interaction with colleagues. Placing something the employee needs punctually away from their desk also encourages them to get around and interacts and build their social interactions with others in the company.

Still related to how nudging should be used, if it is to be carried out in a positive way, it is essential to assess the risk that may be associated with the change. While this may seem like an enabler because it lessens the cognitive burden associated with change, seeking to influence people’s behaviour implicates a huge responsibility. If, on the one hand, people do not always perceive or are willing to change for something better, on the other hand what we consider to be the best choice may not be the case for each and everyone.

A clear example of this is managing psychosocial risks to which people are exposed at work. It is not wise to start implementing changes without understanding what is going on and involve people every step of the evaluation and intervention process, i.e., carrying out the psychosocial risk assessment and define actions and changes in work context without knowing the context and its specificities. Only by a participative design process could the organisation be able to implement better nudges that help change the behaviours associated with those risks, and clearly mitigate them by increase wellbeing and health of their human capital.

But how can we implement this in our organisation? In the following points we will give you some examples of nudges that you can implement in your organisation, to promote better health and wellbeing decision making daily.

  • Inspire employees to act in a certain way by telling them a story that demonstrates the result of following that method (e.g., importance of peer support for one’s well-being).
  • Give the example of good practices and share with the team your experience in town hall moments (e.g., work recovery strategies).
  • Create checkpoints also for breaks and recovery along a project (e.g., going by the employees’ desk/chat and asking if they have already taken a break or reminding them that it is their lunch break, invite people to take breaks and make good use of recovery time).
  • Help set short-term goals to achieve the goal and value these achievements, create a context of small wins at work.
  • Co-design a work agenda that balances focused work, collaboration, and social interaction (e.g., reduce the number of synchronous meetings/moments in the late afternoon, outside working hours or on Fridays).
  • Delegate tasks progressively, giving employees more autonomy, always showing you are a support, clearly designing a learning process that is progressive and makes it easy to change and grow.
  • Give feedback to your team, constructively and objectively, and encourage them to do the same with you and your peers. This feedback could be delivered by using technology that could incorporate specific nudges, short content to boost motivation, reinforce and educate.
  • Talk to people reinforcing their contribution and relevance to the company’s goals by establish frequent moments to do so, and using technology to deliver positive tokens and recognitions in collaboration platforms.
  • Create specific content that could be deliver more than once (as a reminder) concerning healthy life-work design and all services and programs available for people that clearly align with the priority of promoting health and wellbeing at your company.


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