Why “Nudges” are the Future of HR

Why “Nudges” are the Future of HR

Table of Contents

What is Nudge Theory? It was first made popular in the book Nudge by Richard Thaler.

Nudges give people a little “nudge” in the right direction. It’s not about twisting their arm. It’s about a gentle reminder, a strategic placement of a subtle motivator or hint. Nudges keep thoughts top of mind. In our world that’s so busy, with the “go go go” mentality, some of the important things can slip through the cracks.

Some real-life and sometimes humorous examples of Nudge Theory include:

Bulls Eye:

Nudge theory really entered the mainstream with a news item back in 2009 that described how authorities at Amsterdam airport had installed small fly shaped stickers in the urinals. Men now had something to aim for – even subconsciously – and spillages were reduced by 80%.

Eat your Veggies:

The American grocery store Pay & Save placed green arrows on the floor leading to the fruit and veg aisles. They found shoppers followed the arrows 9 times out of 10 – and their sales of fresh produce skyrocketed.

Social Norms:

In the UK, people in arrears on their taxes were sent reminders that were worded using Social Normative Messages. Phrases such as “9 out of 10 people in your area are up to date with tax payments.” By making them seem like the outliers, tax payments from people sent these letters was 15% up compared to the norm.”

Nudges are a helping hand when life gets hectic. They keep important objectives top of mind. And they are the future of HR.

What’s so great about nudges?

The problem with our current system of training and enabling leaders in the workplace is that it is not frequent enough. Quarterly, bi-yearly, or annually, won’t cut it anymore because while they received the training, these positive practices aren’t yet muscle memory. It’s easy to slip into back habits. When we don’t come up for air to assess how we’re doing and if we’re on the right track, we can slip away from where we’re supposed to be without even realizing it.

The consumer world has already embraced Nudges to their full extent. Every app we download wants to send us push notifications. Pages that we like and follow on social media are continuously posting reminer and bullet point and suggestions to become more efficient and effective. And because of all these methods of communication, we’re constantly thinking about these things.

The same method can be employed in the workplace. Small, simple reminders that are helpful rather than pushy is what inspires positive action. WorkTango has seen a lot of success with customers using nudges, especially with our Learning Coach feature. Our platform gently “nudges” leaders with excellent content and resources based on results from employee feedback. These nudges are relevant to current strengths and weaknesses, and help them become better, more agile leaders. Because when you make something top of mind, people are going to act on it.

How to Nudge successfully


1. Make Nudges Easy and Ethical

Nudge theory was named and popularized in a book by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein, Nudge: Improving decisions about health, wealth and happiness, and when Thaler signs a copy of his book, he writes “Nudge for good”.

HRZone further defines “good” nudging as:

  • “All nudging should be transparent and never misleading.

  • There should be good reason to believe that the behavior being encouraged will improve the welfare of those being nudged.”


2. Keep Nudges Light

Nudges are supposed to be easy and optional, but they can backfire. If employees feel controlled, rather than empowered, the nudges may have the opposite response. A nudge is meant to be a quick, helpful suggestion, not a domineering override. In a Financial Times article, they compared giving a nudge to giving someone a GPS. It shows them where you want them to go, but they don’t need to follow the instructions.


3. Have a Nudge Plan

If you want to get something done, you need to have an effective plan. Make sure you seamlessly and naturally integrate these nudges into day-to-day life in order to help employees. Plan for what outcomes you want to see, and then break down what you can do, little by little, to help your employees get there.  Provide encouragement to partake, show the benefits of taking these nudges and becoming more effective and successful.



Nudge Theory is being utilized from everywhere to that fitness app that keeps reminding you to drink more water, to the letter you get in the mail asking if you’d like your bill payments digitized. These little helps and hints can make life smoother, easier, and better. It can make life better for your leaders, specifically, to lead your employees and drive your company forward.

And all it takes is a little nudge.