As our cultures develop and we see in new generations, our idea of freedom is becoming more and more present. Whether it be freedom of speech, rights for certain groups or anything in between – people really care about it and are fighting for it. That’s part of the reason we naturally don’t like being told what to do. It makes us feel inferior and we want that ability to make choices for ourselves. That is what makes us feel free in everyday life. So what happens when we don’t realise our decisions are being influenced?

The Nudge is a behavioural theory behind leading people in the ‘right’ direction. There is a science behind it, showing how the smallest of actions can have a significant impact on people’s behaviour. It isn’t a case of forcing them to do something but encouraging a certain choice to be made by altering the environment around us – also known as choice architecture. A key factor in play when implementing a ‘Nudge’ is allowing that person to maintain freedom of choice and to feel in control of their own decisions. It’s not about forcing them to do whatever you want.

Why do we use The Nudge?

Small, inconspicuous changes are easy to make and don’t cost a lot. Especially in our business world, we deal with a constantly changing environment. So using this to our advantage could see employees, family and friends make better choices every day. By changing our environment to make certain things more appealing, or certain actions easier to carry out – we are gently nudging people to take a different path. There are plenty of reasons we might want to do so but remember – people still need to have that freedom of choice to make it work.

It’s not uncommon that we will make quick decisions when under pressure. Because of this, we aren’t always doing what’s best for us. The Nudge theory sets out to make better decisions the easiest ones so we can steer certain groups of people towards healthier, more efficient and practical lives. Let’s take a look at some examples where this technique has been used by large organisations, businesses and even the government.

Nudges at work

Pension Scheme

In 2012, the government introduced a new scheme for companies to help more people save for their retirement. An auto-enrollment was set up so that instead of having to opt-in to making contributions to your pension, it was done on your behalf as soon as you join a company. Before this, it was your job to decide whether you wanted to join or not. This led to many people not bothering and therefore not taking a great opportunity to save for their future retirement.

The auto-enrollment was essentially The Nudge set up by our government, encouraging people to do something they thought was beneficial. By giving people a positive outcome of putting money aside, but not actually having to do anything for it – we saw a significant rise in the number of employees who were part of the scheme. In 2018, 87% of those eligible were now enrolled. That means, just by making it that bit easier – people chose to follow that path. Simplicity is key when it comes to decision making.

Free Fruit

As simple as this one is, it can have a huge benefit on our lifestyle and truly encourages people to make healthier choices. Many companies have a community culture nowadays where they encourage communication and interaction. This has led to more communal areas being set up in offices and open-plan spaces becoming more popular. Within this, we are beginning to see a focus on healthy living with standing desks and free fruit being the new norm. The Nudge in this case is making the offering of healthy food readily available. Instead of stocking vending machines with junk food and putting it in the kitchen or cafeteria, you are giving them healthier choices.

The fact that it is free makes the decision easier – they don’t have to sacrifice anything for it. We then have the element of availability. If someone has to walk down three flights of stairs and into the next building to get an apple – they probably won’t bother. Especially if there is a vending machine right outside their office. A really simple decision is going to be most appealing because we don’t have to think about it. But each person is still in control of their choices. You aren’t forcing them to eat fruit over a biscuit – you’re just edging them to choose one over the other.

workplace ethics


Reviews and feedback should be a huge part of your business plan. If they’re not – you’re missing a trick. When you market to a target audience, your objective is to get them to buy from you over your competitors. You’re implementing The Nudge theory without even realising it. Using testimonials to help promote your company is an easy way to nudge potential clients into buying from you instead of anyone else. Firstly, it builds trust between you and a consumer. Displaying yourself as a reputable business is step one of drawing people in. Not only this, but it is important to make reviews visible. Display them in places clients have to notice. Like on a product itself or a front page of your website.

By proving to people they will get a positive reward from working with you or buying from you – you’re making that decision a lot easier. Let them see why choosing you is the best, most simple decision. A recurring theme comes up again here. No one is being forced to buy from you but you’re giving them reasons why they should and an easy opportunity to do so. It’s all a part of your marketing strategy really, and if you do it right – we know it works. That’s why so many people shop with big brands. They are well known and make it really easy for customers to use their services.

Other examples of The Nudge

As well as at work, we may not notice ourselves being nudged in daily life. Here are some more examples of where we see the theory in play. You may notice similarities in ways in which they work.

  • UK organ donation changing from opt-in to opt-out.
  • Up-selling in restaurants and fast-food chains
  • Calorie counts and nutritional information on food packaging
  • Messaging and images on cigarette and tobacco packets

Critique surrounding the theory

While many of us do submit to the behavioural science behind The Nudge, it has been heavily critiqued in the past. One reason for this is the ethics behind the technique. While we have already discussed how important it is to maintain freedom of choice, some researchers have said that this is not enough. There is a debate on how manipulative it could be to implement nudging and whether we should even be using it. In contrast, some believe that because nudging usually has a positive outcome for the individual – it shouldn’t be considered manipulative. So although we are steering people in different directions, if they remain in control of their own choices, can it be considered unethical?

Another point made against the theory was due to the short-term nature of these decisions. It is thought that nudges being made do not encourage long-term behavioural changes. Therefore, is it really beneficial at all? While we can encourage someone to do something once, it is not guaranteed they’ll have the same inclination next time round. Pairing this with previous concerns of manipulation and unethical behaviour, people can wonder whether subtle choice architectural changes are enough to encourage better lifestyles. Or are we just playing on people’s natural tendency to make rash decisions?

So, does it work?

Well, in reality, we can see people being nudged every day. And yes, it does have an impact on their lives when it works. But the scale of that impact can vary greatly as we’ve seen in this article. While having an apple over a packet of crisps every now and then is a good alternative – it probably won’t change anyone life dramatically. However, the pension auto-enrolment scheme has seen a huge spike in people saving money for something that won’t affect them for decades. It seems that certain types of nudges play a bigger part than others. With that being said – it seems clear that it can be an effective way of reaching people, without taking away their freedom.

Want to start implementing The Nudge in your business? Or are you looking for more ways to encourage your team to work efficiently and live well? Speak to one of our dedicated Azimuth experts today by contacting us at or call +44 (0)1483 24 33 81. We’ll be more than happy to discuss how we can help you and with over 20 years of experience across a range of industries, we have the innovative, proven tools that can help you unlock the true potential of your business. What are you waiting for?

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