This blog post, provided by the IPR Behavioral Insights Research Center and written by Dr. Terry Flynn and Tim Li, is based on a research paper by Elizabeth Velema, Ellis Vyth, Trynke Hoekstra, & Ingrid Steenhuis. 

Key Findings

  • Nudges and interventions can be effective for encouraging certain behaviours in the workplace.
  • Healthier food behaviour is important for employee health and contributes to overall productivity and success. Organizations can encourage this by offering healthier options and including these nudges in more meaningful places in menus and cafeterias.

Implications for Public Relations

Unconscious and intuitive decision making can be leveraged to support organizational goals like productivity via employee health and wellbeing. This study demonstrates how organizations can use small changes to encourage healthy eating in the workplace environment. The findings can be applied more broadly to encourage particular consumer behaviours like healthy food choices. Public relations professionals should recognize the potential of behavioural insights like nudging for promoting behaviour change. Whereas more traditional communication strategies aims to change the attitudes and beliefs that drive behaviour, nudging focuses on the intuitive processing where people aren’t actively processing information in a rational way. This approach is especially useful when people’s attitudes are already aligned with the desired outcome, but their unconscious decisions don’t.

Summary

Changing the environment so that healthier food choices are automatic is one popular example of “nudges,” interventions that structure choices in a way that promotes certain behaviour without violating autonomy or relying on communication to change attitudes in hopes of affecting behaviour.

Human behaviour is often irrational and driven by mental shortcuts that reduce effort. As a result, actions may not always align with attitudes or desires. People often choose certain options because they are easier, despite rationally knowing there are less desirable. Interventions like moving healthier food options to more visible places or making healthy choices the defaults option are common nudges that are used to courage healthier eating.

Nudging healthier eating behaviour is often used in workplaces to promote employee health and productivity. This study examines the impact of nudges in a real-world setting by implementing a nudge strategy at 30 worksite cafeterias in the Netherlands for 12 weeks. This nudge strategy made changes to product offerings, placement, price, and promotion, including:

  • offering more healthy food options and combo deals for them,
  • making healthier opinions more visible in promotions, displays, and menus,
  • putting healthier opinions at the beginning of the service route,
  • increasing the price of unhealthy options, while decreasing the price of healthier options

The results of the study showed a positive impact on healthy eating. Employees at the cafeterias where the nudges were implemented chose healthier options and increased fruit consumption without organizations explicitly advertising healthiness and taking a more prescriptive approach to improving employee health. There was limited impact of less healthy snack sales, but this could’ve been because snacks remained relatively inexpensive and easily accessible. Critically, employees responded positively to the changes. Together, these findings demonstrate that nudges for health eating behaviour in the workplace are effective.

Blog post compiled by Dr. Terry Flynn and Tim Li. 

Citation

Velema, Elizabeth, Vyth, Ellis L., Hoekstra, Trynke, & Steenhuis, Ingrid H. (2018). Nudging and social marketing techniques encourage employees to make healthier food choices: a randomized controlled trial in 30 worksite cafeterias in The Netherlands. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 107(2), 236-246. https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/nqx045

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Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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