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Four types of nudges that can boost employee health and wellbeing



Industry experts are urging businesses to proactively address statistics which show that two in three UK adults are now overweight or obese – and the science of nudging could be the secret to making it happen.

The issue is back in the news after Ansaf Azhar, Corporate Director of Public Health at Oxfordshire County Council, called for a partnership approach to the problem. One that involves authorities and employers alike, to promote healthy and affordable food.

After all, poor health has a big impact on the workplace, whether that is on happiness, confidence, productivity, or absenteeism.

With individuals spending an average of 90,000 hours of their adult lives at work, businesses have a unique opportunity to utilise the workplace as a catalyst for positive change.

But how do you persuade consumers to change their habits? Shouting from posters or running extensive education campaigns has enjoyed only limited success. So, is it time to try something different?

Psychotherapist, Khody Damestani, who has advised workplace caterer Eurest, believes that the key lies in ‘nudging’, a philosophy backed by increasing amounts of academic research.

He says: “When it comes to helping employees make healthier decisions, it’s worth bearing in mind that it is more difficult to change someone’s mind, or their perception, than it is to help them make a choice.”

As a result, Eurest has proactively integrated nudging techniques into its food services for businesses across the UK, to enhance the wellbeing of workers. It uses clever techniques to ‘nudge’ people into making healthier and more sustainable choices. For instance by putting healthy options first on the menu and counter, increasing plant-based options and making healthy options more appealing.

Managing Director, Morag Freathy, said: “With Khody’s help, we’ve been able to incorporate four different nudging methods into our offering and this is positively impacting the health and wellbeing of people in our workplace restaurants.”

The methods exercised by Eurest include:

1 Cognitive nudging  

Cognitive nudging uses evaluative information to influence habits including those relating to health, wellbeing and even sustainability.

Eurest’s products now feature colour-coded eco-labels which rate products from A-E based on their environmental impact, for example.

2 Affective or emotional nudging 
Affective or emotional nudging aims to change people’s feelings by using clever techniques to modify their environment.

Morag said: “We put extra emphasis on the presentation of our healthiest dishes, to ensure that they look and sound appealing.

“This includes the type of language that is used. We came up with the name ‘Plantilicious’ for our plant-based menu, for example. It’s slightly playful to instil a sense of fun and excitement.”

3 Behavioural nudges  
Behavioural nudges involve strategies which make it effortless for people to make healthier decisions. For example, placing the more nutritious options at the front and centre of counters and streamlining menus to promote better choices.

Morag adds: “We implemented this technique with our ‘Good Stuff’ menu range, which clearly identifies our healthiest options using eye-catching labels.”

4 The default nudge 

Default nudging removes effort from decision-making altogether, making it highly effective. The government’s “opt-out” organ donation system, for instance, increased donations as people are less likely to consciously opt out.

Research confirms that default nudges are successful as people naturally choose the path of least resistance.

Morag says: “In menus, making a plant-based option the default or offering only healthy choices simplifies decision-making.”

Eurest has even changed the recipe for many of its traditional favourites to be healthier, without calling it out. For instance, burgers which are now 50% meat and 50% plant-based protein – but taste just as good.

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