The Art of Nudging

Normally when you tell people what they need to do, they ignore it or rebel against it.

So how can you influence people to take action? Well, you can nudge them. Nudge theory has been around for a while and has been much written about including Richard Thaler’s book, Nudge, published in 2008. At its core is the premise that people will respond to indirect suggestions and reinforcements so influencing their behaviour and decisions in a positive direction.

In recent years we have seen government initiatives use this theory, with a view of improving social outcomes. For example, the pensions auto-enrolment scheme and Making Tax Digital (MTD), are both based on persuading individuals to take positive action. So you have to act to ‘opt out’ rather than actively ‘opt in’.

A recent CIPD report “Our Minds at Work: The Behavioural Science of HR” argues that the HR professional and management could benefit from using the power of the ‘nudge theory’ based on what and how people are thinking rather than focussing on policy and procedures.

So how should you think about making a good nudge initiative? Ideally it should follow the EAST acronym. Easy, Attractive, Social and Timely. You also need to make the most of a number of human traits:-
• Inertia: Situations where people are lazy and stick with the default option such as organ donation. The government plans to bring in an automatic opt-in from spring 2020.
• Social Pressure: We are social beings, so we tend to follow if the majority of others have taken a certain action. We believe they can’t all be wrong!
• Immediacy of events: After major events like floods and storm damage, people tend to forget very quickly about updating their insurance.
• Framing: How a proposition is put to us is important. If you tell people 10% of people who had this operation needed further treatment within five years, they will probably react with alarm. However, if you present the same information that 90% of people needed no further treatment after five years, they might go into the operating theatre in a better mind-set.

Anyone involved in management or human resources will need to consider how people think and what influences their behaviour. Creating policies and telling staff what they should and shouldn’t do is unlikely to have the desired effect. On the other hand, identifying what will persuade them to buy into increasing their pension contributions, taking up company benefits, joining in the in-house welfare initiatives will make sure that these interventions succeed rather than fall by the wayside.

If you believe your organisation could benefit from some insights into “nudging” or you wish to discuss how to frame some of your organisation’s initiatives then please get in touch with Hafton by giving us a call or email us at

Anna Stobart