The concept of nudging has been in public conscious for good few years now thanks to a few notable politicians cottoning on to the practice, include Messrs Obama and Cameron. It is likely that Richard Thaler’s promise of ‘outsized results for undersized investments’ caught their attention, and it’s these words that are precisely why anyone who works in office should give the subject some time.

Thaler, an economist and Nobel laureate, describes a nudge as ‘any aspect of the choice architecture that alters people’s behaviour in a predictable way without forbidding any options or significantly changing their economic incentive’. So, giving people a soft push in the right direction, no carrot or stick required – sounds like a CEO’s dream!

Anil Karamchandani, author of 21 Office Situations & How to Deal with Them, recently highlighted 5 nudges he believes can positively change the work environment.

1. To encourage collaboration
How did Google tackle the mammoth challenge of cross team collaboration? Laszlo Bock, former Head of People, created a simple 2 question survey on collaboration. This simple process that outed less-than-ideal co-operators and the opportunity to improve the quality of their inter-team collaboration with little other intervention required. Employers were also shown their score and position in the company relative to their co-workers which is the key component – those who were under average sat outside the social norm and the power of this social comparison nudged them to pull their socks up. In eight quarters the team went from 70% favourable on these questions to 90%.

2. To increase productivity
Interruptions kill productivity, and unfortunately the working day is full of them, from meetings to ad-hoc requests and ‘urgent’ emails – it’s a constant fight to stay on task and can lead to slippage on key deadlines. This was a problem faced by a team of software engineers at a Fortune 500 company, and the economist Leslie Perlow came up with a simple solution. Perlow, also a professor at Harvard’s Organizational Behaviour Unit, proposed creating a period of immunity to these distractions; quiet time. This ran from morning to noon 3 days a week, enabling the team to get their heads down and plough on with the task in hand. The plan worked perfectly and the deadline was met.

3. To enable work/life balance
Out of hours email is a killer of work/life balance that many employees and, increasingly, businesses are striving to find. Boston Consulting Group employed a most simple (there’s that word again) of low tech solutions to this problem – a pop up message that appeared when anyone attempted to send an email out of hours. ‘You are trying to send an email to BCG users outside normal office hours. Please choose one of the following options: a) Mark email as low priority; b) Defer sending until next business day; c) Send email as is; or d) Cancel.’

4. To encourage healthy options
A nudge as small as encouraging people to take the stairs rather than the escalator can have a profound impact on people’s health. A study of 9,000 pedestrians found that a directive posters had a better impact when a person’s processing time is limited, for example, ‘Stair climbing improves health. Take the stairs.’ On the other hand, posters with an autonomy tone, had a greater and longer-lasting impact when placed some distance (60 ft) on the approach to the escalator, allowing pedestrians time to absorb the message and make the decision. Such posters read, ‘Stair climbing improves health. Will you take the stairs?’. With proven benefits from bone-strengthening to longevity, this simple push could make a real difference to the health of office inhabitants.

5. To reduce waste
Cass Sunstein, a legal scholar who co-wrote the seminal book ‘Nudge’ with Thaler, is a big advocate of the use of defaults as a means of encouraging people to do the right thing. One example he highlights in the book ‘Choosing Not to Choose’ is that of Rutgers University simply changing its default printer setting from ‘print on a single page’ to ‘print on front and back.’ In the first three years of the new default, paper consumption was reduced by well over 55 million sheets, which amounted to a 44% reduction, the equivalent of 4,650 trees.

As an agency, influencing behaviours is core to what we do and applying Behavioural Economics to marketing communications is a natural progression. If you are interested in understanding more about how we do this get in touch now.

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By Greg Copeland

Behavioural Strategist