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How to make healthy choices easy at work

Jul 17, 2020 | Business, Real News

What if you didn’t have to make more time to attend to your health because it was integrated into every working day? By integrating well-designed ‘nudges’ into our working day-to-day routine, organisations can harness the power of health by stealth. Read on for how to make healthy choices easy at work!

“No time” is one of the most common reasons Australians give for not engaging in healthier behaviour, such as more exercise or cooking nutritious meals.

What if you didn’t have to make more time to attend to your health because it was integrated into every working day?

That’s the potential of “the nudge”. A nudge is a tweak in design that makes healthy choices the easier ones, while preserving our freedom to choose. A simple example is placing fruit, rather than less healthy snacks, at the canteen cash register.

Nudge theory was developed by Richard Thaler, co-author of the influential book Nudge, Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness and the winner of the 2017 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences. Thaler’s theory is born of behavioural economics, which recognises and takes advantage of the fact that, most of the time, we act out of habit or in response to our environment, rather than due to conscious deliberation.

One example of a nudge that can be used to improve people’s health and wealth is to make the “better” choice, such as participating in a savings plan, the default option. This technique plays on our autopilot tendency to stick with the status quo, because it’s too much bother to change, even for our own good. We are still free, however, to opt out of the savings plan if we truly object to it.

Subtle, everyday nudges

If a workplace identifies physical activity as a priority, for example, we look at how we can influence a range of workplace factors to make moving easier, and not to simply educate individuals and hope they’ll change.

Some examples of ‘everyday nudges’ are walking or standing meetings, encouraging workers to “walk an email” when possible, moving bins and printers to a distant place in the building, wireless headsets for call centre staff so they can stand and move when taking calls, and/or making stairwells more attractive.

Policy changes can also help remove barriers to better health, i.e. flexible work policies that help workers feel comfortable spending an extra 15 minutes of their lunch on exercise.

Daily work activities that take up much of our time, such as screen-based work, emails and meetings, are particularly good targets for healthy nudges. Sit-stand desks are proven to reduce prolonged sitting and increase standing. What about computer programs that prompt us to take a stretch?

To help staff thrive, transform your meetings! Meetings are usually all sitting down, drinking coffee. How about try stand-up Zoom meetings, often punctuated by stretch breaks? Team members could also be encouraged to drink water or herbal teas during meetings, avoid sugar and bring fruit and nuts or other healthy alternatives. A 2019 meta-analysis found that small, healthy food nudges such as this can reduce daily energy intake by up to 209 kcal, the same number of calories found in 21 cubes of sugar.

Engaging staff in reviewing the design of their working days and generating ideas for embedding healthy tweaks is likely to generate many simple and inexpensive ways to help us act in our own best interests.

Health by stealth can be simple, cheap and effective

Sticking colourful footprints on a set of stairs prompted a significant increase in stair use over a six-week period, according to one workplace study. When the footprints were removed, stair use decreased again.

Labelling some foods as unhealthy and placing them below eye level in a hospital cafeteria reduced the number of people eating them.

The ideal nudge

Easy: defaults, simplifying messages or removing the hassle factor
Attractive: rewards, recognition, making the healthy option fun
Social: creates networks, encourages accountability buddies
Timely: occurs in a receptive moment when key decisions are being made

How to make healthy choices at work sourced by our friends at InTheBlack.

Here at DGL Accountants, we are proud to work hard but play harder – contact our office today should you require assistance in implementing exercise or healthy food into your busy-ness and lives!

The material and contents provided in this publication are informative in nature only. It is not intended to be advice and you should not act specifically on the basis of this information alone. If expert assistance is required, professional advice should be obtained.