Nudging: Little nudges to motivate your employees

Ilustración de una persona de cabello rizado y oscuro que parece estar pensando. La persona lleva una camiseta azul y tiene una mano en el mentón en una postura pensativa. Alrededor de su cabeza hay varios globos de pensamiento con diferentes íconos, como puntos suspensivos, una nota musical y un símbolo de dinero. A la izquierda de la persona hay una planta de cactus en una maceta azul, y a la derecha hay otra planta en una maceta blanca

Have you ever heard of nudging theory? Probably doesn’t sound familiar to you, but we are sure that you have been the object of its influence on more than one occasion.

Think of those clothing stores with catchy music that encourage you to enter or the supermarket shelves with products strategically placed at eye level that encourage you to buy them.

These are techniques that give you a “little push” to make a certain decision without you realizing it.

This same principle, widely used in consumer and financial psychology, can also be applied to improve the work environment and make employees work with more enthusiasm and better performance.

What is “nudging ” or the nudge theory?

Nudging is a technique that seeks to influence people’s decisions through subtle modifications to their environment. These small “ nudges” do not impose restrictions, but rather facilitate more beneficial and rational options without individuals losing their freedom of choice.

Its premise is simple: between two options, people are used to choosing the one that is easier, instead of the most appropriate.

The concept was popularized by economist Richard Thaler and lawyer Cass Sunstein in their book “Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness” published in 2008.

It should be noted that, thanks to this contribution, Thaler won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2017.

But, how does the nudge theory affect people management?

In the work context, nudging can become a powerful tool to improve motivation and productivity by creating work environments that encourage employees, without them realizing it, to make healthy, efficient decisions that are aligned with organizational goals.

How to enhance work motivation through nudging 

Although sugary drinks are known to be potentially dangerous to health, many people consume them daily over healthier options.

From a psychological point of view, this situation is due to instant gratification and cognitive biases.

Sugary drinks provide a quick reward in the form of taste pleasure and energy, trumping long-term health reasoning. We could say then that the ease of opening a can of soda influences making this less healthy option more tempting.

This is how the nudge theory works and, wisely, we can also apply it in talent management to make our teams more motivated in their jobs.

We tell you how!

Visible progress board

A visible progress board allows all employees to see the current status of projects and goals achieved.

In the same way that seeing the calories in a hamburger pushes us to want to choose healthier options, these types of visualizations help employees clearly see how their work contributes to the overall success of the organization, “pushing” them to commit more seriously to their tasks.

System of points

This system is a great “nudge” for employees who are ambitious and highly competitive, since it is based on accumulating points for completing tasks, achieving goals or participating in additional activities.

Wanting to see themselves at the top will encourage them to work harder and actively participate in their professional development.

Digital Leaderboard

A step beyond the points system would be to create a digital leaderboard to display the achievements and contributions of team members.

Seeing their names and achievements in public, employees feel recognized and motivated to continue trying. In addition, these boards also serve to “incite” those who seek to improve themselves by seeing the success of their peers.

This is a great way to recognize and celebrate each individual’s efforts in real time. And, being accessible from anywhere, they are also a visible platform for continuous recognition.


Giving employees responsibility for their own work gives them a greater sense of autonomy and control.

On the one hand, autonomy satisfies one of the basic needs according to the Self-Determination Theory, causing greater satisfaction and work commitment.

On the other hand, by making it easier for team members to manage their own tasks, we apply a “nudge” that encourages initiative and responsibility, especially in decision making.

Continuous feedback

Getting leaders used to providing feedback is also using nudge theory. When employees receive ongoing guidance and recognition, we are actually encouraging performance improvements without imposing abrupt changes.

Cognitively, constant feedback acts as “nudges” that guide employees toward more effective behaviors and practices without imposing any action on them.

Reduce friction in processes

This would be the most direct application of the nudge theory: eliminating unnecessary obstacles that divert attention so that our collaborators can focus on what really matters.

Thus, by eliminating the most tedious tasks (for example, by automating them ), we will create a more productive and satisfying environment, and employees will be more encouraged to give 100% in tasks that do add value, both to them and to the organization.

Putting nudging to the test

To what extent are these “nudges” effective?

This study reviewed more than 200 investigations, with data from 2,149,683 participants.

According to their findings, nudging interventions have a slight to moderate effect, with their greatest impact seen in structural decisions.

In fact, the effectiveness of this theory has earned it its detractors.

One of the main critics is the ethical concern about the subtle manipulation of people’s decisions without their full knowledge. That is, the fear that individual autonomy may be violated.

Additionally, some critics argue that nudges can be paternalistic, imposing specific values on individuals or even causing them to engage in inappropriate behavior.

Finally, there are questions about the sustainability of the long-term effects of nudges and whether they really change behavior, or only influence decisions that are made in the moment.

Anyway, there is no doubt that the difference in an organization will always be the people who are part of it and maintaining a motivated team is essential for the company to be successful. That is why it is so important to measure motivation and carry out exhaustive control. Team Insights helps you take the pulse of your organization with surveys that measure the motivation and satisfaction of your employees in an easy, fast and real-time way.

Request a demo and discover everything our employee engagement software can do for you and your organization!

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