How your office influences your employees’ decisions

Edited excerpt from Work Rules!: Insights from Inside Google That Will Transform How You Live and Lead by Laszlo Bock:

For years we’d been testing ways to improve the quantity and quality of Googlers’ lives. We decided to test three types of intervention: providing information so that people could make better food choices, limiting options to healthy choices, and nudging. Of the three, nudges were the most effective. Nudging involves subtly changing the structure of the environment without limiting choice.

We measured the consumption of microkitchen snacks for two weeks to generate a baseline, and then put all the candy in opaque containers. Googlers, being normal people, prefer candy to fruit, but what would happen when we made the candy just a little less visible and harder to get to? We were floored by the result. The proportion of total calories consumed from candy decreased by 30 percent and the proportion of fat consumed dropped by 40 percent.

We turned to our cafés to see if a similar small nudge could change behavior. We supplemented our standard twelve-inch plates with smaller nine-inch plates. We put up posters and placed informational cards on the café tables, referencing the research that people who ate off smaller plates on average consumed fewer calories but felt equally satiated. 32 percent of Googlers tried the small plates. Total consumption dropped by 5 percent, but waste — the amount of food thrown away uneaten — fell by 18 percent.

We’re influenced by countless small signals that nudge us in one direction or another, often without any deep intent behind the nudges. Organizations make decisions about how to structure their workspaces, teams, and processes. Every one of these decisions nudges us to be open or closed, healthy or ill, happy or sad. Now look around you right now and discover how your environment is nudging you and those around you already.

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