A gentle nudge can boost productivity

The concept of ‘nudge’ can be applied in learning and development, diversity and inclusion, as well workplace productivity.


Developed by Richard Thaler, a 2017 Nobel laureate, ‘nudge’ is a concept in behavioural economics, which uses positive reinforcement and indirect suggestions to influence human behaviour and decision making. And, it can be quite useful in increasing employee productivity.

By slightly tweaking the manner in which options are presented to individuals, the Nudge theory can help steer people away from irrational decision making and towards decisions that will benefit them and the organisation.

The concept of nudge is essentially a means of guiding behaviour without having to rely on our rational or logical selves. It taps into the automatic system and rewires us to behave in a certain way, which makes us better and more productive individuals. Helpful nudges can direct employees towards eating healthy, being more inclusive and open to diversity, or even correcting their biases. It has multiple applications in learning and development, diversity and inclusion, as well as productivity in the workplace.

Everyday examples of nudges can include putting healthy food at eye level or celebrating employee achievements frequently to inspire other workers.

Today, HR practitioners are looking at several behavioural science-led methods to transform the organisational space. For HR, whose business lies predominantly with people, there can be innumerable benefits of familiarising with the concept, not only for the benefit of the workforce but for personal influence as well.

Sriharsha Achar, group CHRO, Appollo Hospitals, agrees. “If you want to persuade people to do things differently, ‘nudging’ is one way of doing it. Today, we find it very common. An HR professional who prepares two different benefit schemes is participating in choice architecture, as is a GP who offers a patient two options for treating an illness. By ‘nudging’ people into engaging, the hope is that positive longer-term trends will change behaviours for the long term.”

Workplace productivity can be increased tremendously through helpful ‘nudges’ in the right direction. Its cost-effectiveness and the fact that it requires no additional resources is what makes it a great tool. We found three ways in which this can happen.

Peer pressure

This the most powerful force, even more than technology, that can steer people in the appropriate direction. It is common for individuals to follow or conform to group behaviour. It gives them a reassurance while making decisions, that others have done the same thing and succeeded. All it takes is a few people to enrol for training or incorporate manager feedback the right way or sign up for a health programme. Done correctly, others will observe and follow. Peer pressure is an effective tool if it is used in the right manner and direction.

As Krish Shanker, group head-HR, Infosys, puts it, “Such tools are used by HR personnel and are effective as well. For instance, it encourages employees to opt for training programmes or managers to work on feedback given by employees.”

Using social media to drive employee learning and development

Everyone nowadays is on one or more, or even all of the many social-media platforms out there. Using these multifaceted touch points can help tweak employee learning and increase productivity. A chat group to discuss training or regular online channels to debate and discuss can boost engagement in work and drive results.

Role models to influence behaviour

People are usually more willing to engage in tasks or behave in a certain way if they see the group that they are part of is already doing it. This appeals to the innate human desire to be part of a group. HR can tap into this desire. If someone influential in the group adopts a healthy or productive behaviour, then it becomes easier to get the others to do the same. This is how role models can be useful in influencing behaviour. This principle is already being used extensively in the business world.

However, it is important to ensure that people have common goals when doing this, otherwise nudging will have no effect. Also, deviant behaviour can be socially penalised to ensure sustained practice and productive behaviour.

All this talk is well and good but nudging is a delicate science and should be used with caution and with advice from experts. There is a danger of it becoming the go-to option for managers because it seems so easy to apply, which is part of the appeal. It requires careful implementation and monitoring along with delicate tweaking to get the required output.

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