Healthy choices: Shaping employees' decision environments


We all know what healthy behaviors are: saving early for retirement, maintaining a nutritious diet, even having regular and good communication with team members. However, when the time comes to make a decision, many other factors (e.g., inconvenience, lack of time, mood) cloud our ability to make the best decision for ourselves. During the past several years, Google’s People Analytics team has architected and carried out several behavioral experiments designed to nudge employees to make healthier decisions.Our goal was to see how we might apply insights from research on choice and decision-making to everyday decisions. Results showed just how far-ranging the effects of the most subtle decision-experiments can be. On nutrition, we found that changing the arrangement of food in “microkitchens” resulted in 3.1 million fewer calories from M&Ms in a seven week period, and an 11% drop in the total fat consumed by candy; on retirement savings, we found that emails introducing optimal savings goals caused Googlers with the lowest savings rates to increase their 401(k) deferral rate by 23%; and on new-hire onboarding, we found that new hires (i.e., Nooglers) who were low on the Proactive Personality scale (i.e., they’re not as naturally inclined to ask for feedback) and received the nudge reported having asked for feedback 15% more than low Proactive Personality Nooglers in a control condition -- meaning they did not receive the nudge.This self-reported gain, in turn, was related to significantly faster onboarding as rated by both the Nooglers themselves and their managers. The People Analytics team has adapted theories of behavioral economics, decision-making science, and social psychology to create a healthier work environment and, in the process of doing so, showed that behaviors can be changed with the smallest of interventions.