Companies nudge employees toward 'better' decisions
Companies nudge employees toward 'better' decisions
23 JULY 2018 7:23 AM

A recent decision by WeWork to not recompense employees’ dining expenses if they selected a dish with meat might be synonymous with the rise in company values and edicts that are designed to influence or “nudge” changes in behavior.

There are a lot of devil’s advocate-style questions in this week’s blog.

News comes in this week that U.S. co-working and office space firm WeWork will not recompense employee dining expenses on official business trips if that employee elects a meat dish, according to the BBC.

Other media outlets have jumped on the story because they know readers will throw their hands in the air and scream “nanny state-style bullying!”

And the ban includes what are generally considered healthier meats such as poultry and pork, not just red meat, which is generally regarded as a food source we all should cut down on, if only because raising cows is not the most sustainable food option.

Will hotel chains do likewise? Probably not as most have food-and-beverage outlets, but bear with me please.

This year has been marked by hotel companies doing admirable things in terms of sustainability, although a cynic—no, not me—might say most of these companies have decided to eliminate plastic bottles and the like because their competition also has. In this era of social media, not doing these types of things could hurt a company’s reputation.

I would still praise all for doing all they can for the environment.

Bloomberg reported on WeWork’s move by stating that “intentionally or not, there’s more going on. The meat ban is an exercise in brand building” and that such “value-laden significance” is vitally important to today’s workforce, who more than ever want their “workplaces to embody the cultural value of their tribe.” 

The story made headlines because eating meat is such an ingrained part of many people’s lives, but on reading it I was immediately reminded of the 2008 book “Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth and Happiness” by academics Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein.

The idea behind the book is the question as to whether it is acceptable for companies to affect employee and customer behavior by “nudging” those groups to act in certain ways.

This might have always been the case with businesses?

Hoteliers like to see themselves as arbiters of lifestyle and constantly change facilities, services and the like to underline the overall experience, but undoubtedly they do with the elimination of another set.

The guest might argue they have a choice of buying a service or staying at another hotel, and, yes, they do, but if a former choice now is not available anywhere, they do not have access to a full range of choices, right?

This is a ludicrous notion of what is my pondering as to whether hotels, and other businesses and industries, do have a responsibility to push behavioral change.

It is an interesting question, I think, especially when put in context of potential monetarization.

A concern that might be relevant is raising itself in the United Kingdom.

High-street bank branches are increasingly closing down, and the number of cash machines, or automatic teller machines, have dramatically reduced in recent years.

Banks are guiding people toward using digital banking solutions, which might be more profitable, according to one critic, Brett Scott, writing for The Guardian.

Scott said banks claim customers have signed up to these digital solutions but points out that if there are fewer branches and cash machines, they might not have a choice.

This is nudging in the wrong way, right, whereas hotel companies, for example, nudging guests to use plastic bottles is nudging in the right way? Although, I will add, not if the alternative to water in a plastic bottle is sparkling water in a glass one at twice the cost.

A possibility, following the logic of Scott’s point, is that what might happen is that in the mania for technological ease in booking hotel rooms, services, F&B, et cetera, there might one day soon be the absolute elimination of ATMs in hotel lobbies.

Will the few guests who want cash be nudged into driving a few blocks to a bank branch, if the ATM there remains, with banks no longer serving a hotel’s ATM because that particular ATM is no longer economically feasible?

That has happened in the London office where I sit. The building had two ATMs. The cafeteria introduced a debit card touch-and-go payment system. The ATMs are no longer in the building.

Do humans just accept the new and move on, making the “new” their “normal” and their behavior consistent with that?

As employees, we all sign up, whether it is wholeheartedly or otherwise, to a set of company values, and eating no meat seems to be one of WeWork’s.

Do companies have the right, perhaps responsibility, to nudge first their employees and then their customers?

I apologize for being philosophical—not something I am noted for; my real passion these last few weeks has been the Tour de France cycling race—but the WeWork news spurred me to thinking, and one thought led to another.

That done, I am now off for a burger. I’ll pay for it myself.

Email Terence Baker or find him on Twitter.

The opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Hotel News Now or its parent company, STR and its affiliated companies. Columnists published on this site are given the freedom to express views that may be controversial, but our goal is to provoke thought and constructive discussion within our reader community. Please feel free to comment or contact an editor with any questions or concerns.

1 Comment

  • George OBrien July 23, 2018 10:35 AM Reply

    This seems very odd and something that has the potential to hurt our business. The majority of meals consumed at a hotel are for travelers that are traveling on business and will be reimbursed by an employer. Putting aside the fact that it is actually not employee-friendly and very "big brotherish," when traveling you often miss meals and want to keep your diet as normal as possible to keep your body happy. It is not easy to get enough protein without eating meat. It can be done, but requires a lot of education and planning.

    WeWork must hate the paleo and crossfit people. What's next baning taxi rides in NYC of less than 1 mile? They want you to walk and get exercise??

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