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A Nudge in the Right Direction? Changing Behaviour in the Workplace

We all have free will, right? You’d like to think so.

In fact, all of our day-to-day decisions and subsequent behaviours are based on subtle pressures, experiences and influencers. Context is everything.

Here we explain how to harness our knowledge of human behaviour to positively influence behaviour in the workplace.

Image by NeONBRAND

Why You Can’t Be Trusted

Nudge theory is the science behind subtly leading people to make the ‘right’ decision and hence do the ‘right’ thing i.e. harnessing people’s mental biases for ‘good’.

Sounds unethical? Bear in mind that people’s decisions are usually driven by mental shortcuts and biases: we do what’s easy, what other people do, what feels right in our gut and what the external context prompts us towards. In this way our decision making and resulting behaviour is often flawed and unreliable. We discriminate, are irrational, suspicious of change and are overconfident in our own ability to make a ‘good’ decision and do the ‘right’ thing.

The Illusion of Control

People don’t want to be told what to do. Managers will know that the more we mandate something, the more our employees will resist it. Whereas, if they feel they have a degree of control to make their ‘own’ decision regarding a particular course of action, they are much less likely to resist.

But in order to understand how you can nudge people towards making the ‘right’ decision and behave in the ‘right’ way, you first need to apply Behavioural Science to understand what an individual’s reward or threat state looks like. Once that has been established you can then influence their reward/threat state by changing the context within which they make this judgement.

Nudge Theory in Action

Here are some examples of how decision making and behaviour can be positively influenced through ‘nudging’:

1. Increased collaboration - Google increased cooperation within a leadership team in conflict by introducing a quarterly survey with just two questions: 1) “In the last quarter, this person helped me when I reached out to him or her"; and 2) “In the last quarter, this person involved me when I could have been helpful to, or was impacted by, his or her team’s work."

Each team member rated each other. The results were then shared anonymously with each individual so everyone knew where they fell in the ranking but didn’t know where anyone else fell.

As a result, the team worked harder to improve the quality and frequency of their collaborations.

2. Reduced meetings, increased productivity - A Fortune 500 software engineering company were behind on delivery of a product. They discovered it wasn’t a work volume issue, instead it was caused by constant meeting interruptions. Sound familiar lol?! You’ll love the next bit.

The team decided to experiment with “quiet time" from morning till noon, three days a week— Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. The company produced guidelines that likened interrupting someone during this time as akin to interrupting someone in a closed-door meeting. Signs were also hung around the office saying “Today: Quiet Time until noon. Tuesday (Date)".

Needless to say, it worked!

3. Email Boundaries - Boston Consulting Group implemented a change to its email system which led managers to draw firmer boundaries between work and non-work time.

They adapted their systems so a pop-up window would appear whenever anyone tried to send a message outside core office hours. The pop-up said: “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”.

Do you think you might be able to use any of the above to optimise your office and nudge your employees towards better behaviour? We’d love to hear from you.

Email us your thoughts.

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash.

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