Choice Architecture: How to Create a Healthier Workspace

Every day you have a thousand decisions to make. From the time you wake up to the time you fall asleep you are making choices that will unconsciously affect your wellness. What if we told you that all of these decisions you think you’re making may actually be the result of some very subtle life-hacking?

Google is doing something fascinating at their headquarters in Silicon Valley. The geniuses at Google know that their cafeterias are a social hub for employees- after all, people bond over meals. Knowing that they cannot refuse to sell things like sodas and sweets in the cafeteria and that our choices influence those of our peers, Google has cleverly engineered healthier options to be more prominent in the buffet lines through the use of “Choice Architecture.” They’ve reduced the size of plates, increased the salad, fruit, vegetable and fish options (and made them yummier), and moved unhealthy foods and beverages into opaque bins and refrigerator drawers. Playing on the “out of sight, out of mind” idea, less healthy and nutrient-absent snacks were moved away from coffee machines, while fruit-infused water was prominently positioned around campus. By designing the way choices are presented to their employee consumers, Google can influence decisions and behaviors to drive the desired outcomes.

Sure, a tech-giant like Google has a seemingly endless budget for employee wellness. If your company’s pockets don’t run quite as deep, there are still plenty of options for you to affect change without dipping into the emergency fund.

A few fiscally-responsible ideas:

  1. Get a filter- Encourage a zero-waste policy so that employees will use glasses, mugs, or thermoses for their water. By supplying some kind of water filter, whether on your sink’s spout or a pitcher in the refrigerator, you not only reduce the company’s carbon footprint (plastic bottles) but also encourage drinking crisp, clean water over a less-healthy option. For plastics still in play, make sure to clearly label recycling receptacles. 
  2. Fruits and veggies- Do you supply snacks in the break room or kitchen? Move the sugary and sodium-filled bars and munchies into a cabinet out of sight and supply fresh fruits and vegetables.
  3. Encourage movement- 1 in 3 American adults have used a digital health tracker at some point, and 1 in 5 actively uses them daily. Create a wellness challenge based on steps walked, calories burned, or active minutes. Offer some kind of reward via a raffle for everyone who participates- it can be as simple as an additional PTO day.
  4. Provide information- Where does everyone go at some point during the day? Into the shared kitchen or break room. Prominently display a sheet of wellness information monthly or seasonally by the ‘fridge or coffee maker. Content can range from seasonal topics like combating allergens and cold symptoms to trending topics like the Coronavirus outbreak and when you should work from home.

It’s a matter of convenience. Making healthy options more easily-accessible and prevalent can spark real change in employee wellness. It doesn’t take a complete overhaul or a small fortune to engage employees in healthy behaviors- it just takes a bit of choice architecture.