Nudging Behavior: What Is It?

Sep 14 2023 | Insights
Group of colleagues sat around on sofa

Nudging behavior, also known as nudging theory or behavioral nudges, is an aspect of behavioral science that is used to alter human behavior, through (you guessed it) a ‘nudge’. Nudges are often made in our day-to-day life – has your partner ever made a subtle prod that the house might need a clean?

Nudging theory in the workplace is a powerful way in which behavioral changes can be implemented and more suitable decisions can be made without removing any choice for employees or enforcing control. Maintaining the freedom of choice is key to nudging theory. This eliminates any chance of workplace distrust or dissatisfaction. Gentle cues can be made to encourage and influence particular behavioral outcomes of employees in the workplace.

Examples of nudging behavior

Nudging behavior in the office might come in several ways, from trying to encourage individuals to be more active to increasing manager effectiveness.

Encouraging employees to be more active, for example, might take nudging theory in the form of setting up a daily step scheme with rewards in place for the highest number of steps daily. Or it might even mean signposting the stairs differently to make them more apparent or, dare we say it, ‘fun’.

Nudging behavior when increasing manager effectiveness might look like tapping into micro-learning or another coaching technique to effectively drive behavior change. This might include techniques based around accountability. For example, EZRA’s development program, Focus, is a coaching scheme designed to work with your learners on a specific topic, while our world-class tech enables their learning with science-backed digital nudges.

Open-ended questions can also often be a useful technique in nudging managerial behavior, or any individuals’ behavior for that matter.

Ways to use nudging theory in the workplace

So, when might nudging behavior be used in the workplace? Well, that depends on what type of behavioral nudging you use. There are three main types that might be used within the workplace: social nudging, choice architecture, and incentives.

Social Nudging: This type of nudging is when you display a particular behavior to encourage others to do the same. So, you might use this in the workplace to encourage hybrid, flexible working, for example. By senior leaders showing that they take their flexible working hours seriously, other employees are more likely to do so.

Choice Architecture: This involves making the ‘better’ (or desired) choice or option easier to achieve. So, this might equate to offering a cycle to work scheme to get employees active, rather than driving or taking public transport. Choice architecture has received a lot more recognition recently. A meta-analysis found that choice architecture is a really effective behavior change tool that can create desirable choices across a diverse pool of individuals (Merten et al., 2022).

Incentives: Using incentives to encourage particular behavior is also a type of nudging, for example rewarding good results to motivate others to achieve the same.

How can nudging behavior create positive change at work?

Nudging behavior can be crucial in achieving positive change at work. But how can something so simple make such a big difference? Because making small behavioral changes within your staff can collectively bring about huge amounts of change. By ‘leading’ employees (ethically, and with choice we must add) to make the decisions you deem more desirable, you’re likely to get really successful results in collective change and meet far less push back from your employees. Why? Because their choice still exists. Employees might have already made these choices, but behavioral nudges can be used to speed up the process so that change can occur faster and more efficiently. When used correctly, nudging behavior can help cultural and organizational change in a positive way.


Mertens, S., Herberz, M., Hahnel, U.J. and Brosch, T., 2022. The effectiveness of nudging: A meta-analysis of choice architecture interventions across behavioral domains. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 119(1), p.e2107346118.

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