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Nudge your employees towards a healthy life

Lots of vitality programmes that are intended to boost health in the workplace don’t really work. Why is that? Because they appeal to a rational approach rather than your employee’s impulses. According to Rex Miller, Philip Williams, and Dr. Michael O’Neill, it’s much more effective to nudge the subconscious in the right direction.

In their clever book, Miller, Williams, and O’Neil reveal how healthy buildings, cultures, and people can lead to larger profit margins. For psychologists with an interest in health and performance like me, the book is a true treat to read and it could certainly enlighten you too.

Badly reasoned investments
In The Healthy Workplace Nudge, the authors marvel at the hefty investments made in the world of wellness and health interventions. It became a hot topic years ago, when cigarette manufacturers were forced to adorn their products with gruesome photos, which completely failed to reduce cigarette consumption when not accompanied by other measures. The authors of the book issue a call for us to open our eyes to the fact that 95% of workplace vitality programmes fail. They’re all set up with the best intentions, but ultimately they’re a waste of money.

Why don’t these programmes work? Because humans are largely irrational creatures. Generally speaking, we have two key systems that drive behaviour. One of these systems is rational and conscious. Before we act, we compare and consider various options. The other system works automatically and subconsciously: it sees us acting on auto-pilot, expending hardly any energy at all. This is ideal in stressful, tiring, and repetitive situations, which makes it by far our preferred system.

Horse and rider
We could compare the two systems with the metaphor of the horse and the rider, with the rider representing the conscious system and the horse the automatic system. It takes a strong, trained rider to tame the horse. This is why obsessive smokers are unable to tame their impulses, even if we bombard them with mortality rates and scary pictures. That’s nothing more than haphazardly lashing at an overpowered horse.

So how can we truly influence people’s health-related behaviour? By switching our focus from the rational system towards the impulsive system.

Give an effective nudge
Nudging involves influencing subconscious choices and behaviour. Giving people a smart push in the right direction is incredibly effective. Some successful examples include the painted footsteps that lead to rubbish bins, the picture of a fly in the men’s bathroom, and the inviting piano stairs, but you might also consider the efficient fuel usage indicator next to your speedometer, or healthy juices placed at eye level, where they’ll be noticed more easily.

Also for office environments
Nudging also works in an office environment. The Healhy Workplace Nudge comes with a few appealing suggestions. The authors explain, for example, why you must first understand where people in your company make certain impulsive decisions. This is important, because this is where you’ll find the ideal places to offer healthier choices as easy alternatives.

Why not start by walking through the office, noting down which temptations or limitations for healthy behaviour you can find. Then think of ways in which you can turn these temptations and limitations into good behaviour. How can taking the stairs be made more attractive? How can you make healthy food jump out in the canteen? How can you encourage more, and more varied exercise?

Effective WORK & MOVE software
Naturally, you don’t have to come up with everything on your own. You can also use a range of existing tools that make use of nudge effects and which have been proven to be effective. Take our scalable, proven WORK & MOVE software, for instance. This software uses subtle pop-ups to help digital knowledge workers to get enough, varied exercise throughout the day. These nudges in the right direction create new, healthier habits and Once these have become ingrained in the subconscious system, healthy behaviour will become easy and automatic. Practically speaking, your employees will start automatically making the right choices.

Looking for more tips? I’d happily recommend reading The Healthy Workplace Nudge.

Myrthe van Stralen
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