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One of the influential books in the field of behavioural economics is Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness written by University of Chicago economist Richard Thaler and Harvard Law School Professor Cass Sunstein, first published in 2008.

Thaler and Sunstein’s premise was that humans make predictable mistakes because of their use of heuristics (decision-making shortcuts), fallacies, and the extent to which they are influenced by other humans and as a result of these predictable failures of rational decision-making, humans often make decisions that are not in their best long-term interest.

Nudge discusses how public and private organisations can help people make better choices in their daily lives through ‘choice architecture.

“People often make poor choices—and look back at them with bafflement!” Thaler and Sunstein write. “We do this because, as human beings, we all are susceptible to a wide array of routine biases that can lead to an equally wide array of embarrassing blunders in education, personal finance, health care, mortgages and credit cards, happiness, and even the planet itself.” (Wikipedia)

Choice architecture is a design framework that presents choices in a way that aims to maximise the long-term self-interest of the decision-maker (and often the government’s, or society’s interests as well).

Choice architecture is colloquially known as a ‘nudge’ due to the subtle way in which effective choice architecture appears to seamlessly prompt a person to make the best long-term choice.

A nudge example that everybody would be familiar with is the way in which local councils provide choice to their residents with respect to recycling household consumables.

No household is forced to separate their recycling from their rubbish, nor are they punished for not doing so, instead the council makes it easy for the residents to make the choice to recycle by providing recycling bins with different coloured lids that are emptied on the same night as the rubbish.

The effectiveness of choice architecture on public policy implementation has been so immediate and significant that many governments around the world have established Nudge Units.

As entrepreneur and blogger, Dianna Leage, notes, “Nudge Units in government are great because they invite everyone in power to step back from their spreadsheets and take a deep breath to examine reality”.

The great news for recruiters is that two recent trials by The Behavioural Insights Team (TBIT) indicate that with a tiny nudge we could significantly expand the pool of candidates available for many vacancies.

TBIT oversaw one of the biggest experimental social policy trials ever when it published the findings of an experiment using over 20 million job applications.

Even during 2020, the year of being forced to work from home, just 22% of quality jobs were advertised with flexible working options. Given the increasing demand for flexibility among job seekers, it would seem obvious that employers who want to attract greater numbers of talent might consider advertising more jobs as flexible, yet there was no substantial jump in jobs being advertising as offering flexible working conditions.

In conjunction with job aggregator, Indeed, TBIT tested a simple nudge to encourage employers to advertise more jobs as flexible.

The nudge was a prompt in the job ad template that encouraged employers to choose flexible working options for their vacancy.

This nudge led to a 20% increase in the number of jobs advertised as flexible. Moreover, our research also showed that job adverts offering flexible working attracted up to 30% more applicants.

Consider the significance of these results given it was merely a screen prompt that caused the 20 per cent bump in jobs being advertised as flexible.

Consider what is possible if, instead of a screen prompt, it is a recruiter having a live conversation with a hiring manager?

Sure a half-competent recruiter trained in a basic script (“Would you like to know how to almost guarantee a 30% bump in interested candidates, Mr/Ms Hiring Manager?”) could double that result to over 40 per cent more vacancies offering flexible work, than would otherwise be the case.

Although I have no evidence to support this proposition my 31 years in the recruitment industry tells me that there’s a strong likelihood that that extra 30 per cent of candidates contains a disproportionately high percentage of top talent; talent that, without the carrot of flexible work, would most likely not consider the role.

What may surprise many employers is that the demand for flexible work is almost as high for men as it is for women.

A 2017 UK study of 3,011 employees revealed that 84% of male full-time employees either work flexibly already or say they want to. For women, this rises to 91%.

I suspect that the percentages for each gender will have only risen, not fallen, as a result of the work-from-home experience that many workers had across 2020.

Consider how much money vendors in the recruitment industry charge to help recruiters source more, and better, candidates.

Then consider the completely money-free alternative that is available to recruiters if they simply nudge every client, every time, to offer flexible working conditions.

It’s a no-brainer, isn’t it?


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