5 ways to ‘nudge’ employee engagement with wellbeing programmes

uploaded on 12 March 2024

Many employers have developed more robust employee value propositions over recent years – introducing everything from retail discount programmes to financial advice services, gym memberships and cycle to work schemes.

Such schemes are proven to boost financial and physical wellbeing as well as mental health. In turn, this helps to improve workforce stability and boost productivity.

So naturally, you want to raise awareness of what you offer. But you also need to tread carefully. These are areas where you can’t be too directive, or policy driven. You can’t force people to save money on what they spend in supermarkets. You can’t tell them they need to get fit or seek advice about their personal finances. If you do, there’s a danger you’ll be viewed as a coercive kind of employer that people will resent. 

So, what’s the solution? The answer lies in ‘nudge theory’ – a tried and tested concept that can help you increase engagement with the wellbeing services you’ve worked so hard to deliver.


What are behavioural nudges?

Nudge theory is a concept that explores the subtle ways you can influence individuals to make better decisions, without restricting their freedom of choice. Coined by economists Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein in 2008, the theory suggests that small, strategically designed interventions (or ‘behavioural nudges’) can guide people towards making choices that are in their best interest.

One famous example is the traffic light system on food packaging that tells people about salt, sugar, and fat content. In general, the idea is to steer people gently towards ‘desired outcomes’ such as healthier lifestyles, increased savings, or environmentally friendly behaviours.


Use nudges to boost take up of wellbeing benefits and support

Nudge theory has gained popularity in public policy, but you can apply it equally in HR and people management to promote positive change. Here are five ways you can use the theory to promote take up of your wellbeing support.


  1. Get leaders walking the walk
    People don’t necessarily want leaders telling them what’s good for them. But it does help if they show how they are engaging with the services you offer. Ask your leaders to talk about the benefits they’ve taken up personally and spread the word through all appropriate channels. One of our clients at the Department for Transport created TikTok style videos starring senior leaders talking about the employee benefits they had personally used. The impact in awareness and take up of benefits was huge.
  2. Create case studies
    Internal case studies are effective nudges that help to drive take up. Ask all your people to share their tips on how they get the most from their benefits, how much they’ve saved and how much better they feel. Promote their stories through social channels like your Teams Channel and Yammer to start a conversation. There’s nothing quite like word of mouth to help you get the message through.
  3. Be subtle and empathic with your comms
    Many people are put off offers like gym memberships, perhaps because the imagery often involves super fit people working towards high level goals. This can prevent people from getting started in the first place, so focus instead on secondary benefits like getting better sleep because of regular exercise. Use the internal case studies you gather to emphasise your point. Also, avoid the temptation to be too critical of behaviours. If you’re promoting a Cycle to Work scheme vs car travel, emphasise personal cost savings and health benefits as much as the damage caused by CO2 emissions. 
  4. Get employees involved in your decision-making process
    When you’re reviewing or developing your benefits programme, get employees involved in the process through focus groups. If your people collaborate with you on the development and selection of your wellbeing benefits, you are much more likely to get better buy-in and a sense of employee ownership that will help to foster behavioural change.
  5. Be creative with your signposting
    Many organisations choose to push benefits like retail discounts around events like Black Friday. But such events are also an opportunity to signpost people to other services you offer, such as independent financial advice and counselling. People should never feel forced to use the advice and support you offer. But it’s a good to remind them at the right time that you provide support whenever they might need it.

Nudge theory is built around thinking about desired outcomes or behaviours then applying the appropriate ‘nudge’ that will help you achieve your goal. Be subtle, be empathetic and remember that your people should also feel they have complete freedom of choice.

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