Nudge Theory | How Can It Be Used To Improve Health and Wellbeing at Work

Nudge theory is the argument that positive reinforcement and indirect suggestion is an effective way to influence the behaviour and decision making of individuals or groups. It was first brought to popularity by behavioural economist Richard Thaler and political scientist Cass Sunstein, although the theory itself was based on earlier research conducted by psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky in the 1970s.

In their 2008 book about health and wealth-based decision making, Thaler and Sunstein defined 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 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.

Nudge theory was initially developed as an ethical construct to improve societies. However, it is now used in a wide array of situations whereby an individual, a business or a group seeks to influence other individuals, businesses or groups. In business, nudge theory can be utilised to influence positive change management, such as in the area of health and wellbeing, whereby an employer wishes to issue a paradigm shift aiming to create a happy and healthy workforce. This becomes central to the health and wellbeing structure in employment, as the focus becomes proactive as opposed to reactive and relies on choice architecture to assist in creating a happier and healthier workplace.

Nudge theory compared to traditional approaches

Pivotal to nudge theory is the idea that one can influence the likelihood of an individual choosing one option over another by shaping their environment. This environment is also known as choice architecture, which describes the various ways choices are presented and how they impact decision-making. The theory suggests an individual can be helped to think appropriately and make better decisions by being offered choices designed to enable those outcomes.

Although nudge theory is used to push an individual toward a desired outcome, they must maintain freedom of choice and feel in control of the decision-making process. This style contrasts with more traditional means of instituting change, where instruction, enforcement, or even punishment are used to coerce people to do something against their will.

To that end, nudge theory is much more effective in altering behaviour because it encourages positive choices over restricting undesirable behaviour with sanctions. What’s more, nudge theory respects that each individual is comprised of certain attitudes, knowledge, and capabilities that influence their behaviour.

Consider the following differences between traditional (enforced) change and nudge theory techniques to put the above into perspective:

  • Enforced change is drastic, direct, and requires conscious, determined effort by the person or group subject to the change. Nudge techniques are simpler for individuals to imagine doing because they are far less threatening and disruptive.
  • Enforced change is usually confrontational and provokes resistance. Nudge techniques, on the other hand, are indirect, tactical, and less confrontational. In some cases, they may be pleasurable or cooperative in nature.

Microbreak and nudge theory

Microbreak combines the concept of nudge theory with simple mental and physical exercises to provide an effective and proactive health and wellbeing software, designed to not only manage Employee health and wellbeing, but to influence it positively and proactively in the workplace.

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