How Google Optimized Healthy Office Snacks

Zoe ChanceRavi DharMichelle Hatzis and Michiel Bakker at Harvard Business Review: “Employers need simple, low-cost ways of helping employees make healthy choices. The effects of poor health and obesity cost U.S. companies $225 billion every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control, and this number is quickly rising. Although some employer-sponsored wellness programs have yielded high returns — Johnson & Johnson reported a 170% return on wellness spending in the 2000s — the employee wellness industry as a whole has struggled to prove its value.


Wellness initiatives often fail because they rely on outdated methods of engagement, placing too much emphasis on providing information. Extensive evidence from behavioral economics has shown that information rarely succeeds in changing behavior or building new habits for fitness and food choices. Telling people why and how to improve their health fails to elicit behavior changes because behavior often diverges from intentions. This is particularly true for food choices because our self-control is taxed by any type of depletion, including hunger. And the necessity of making food decisions many times a day means we can’t devote much processing power to each choice, so our eating behaviors tend to be habit- and instinct-driven. With a clearer understanding of the influences on choice — context and impulsivity, for instance — companies can design environments that reinforce employees’ healthy choices, limit potential lapses, and save on health care costs.

Jointly, the Google Food Team and the Yale Center for Customer Insights have been studying how behavioral economics can improve employee health choices. We’ve run multiple field experiments to understand how small “tweaks” can nudge behavior toward desirable outcomes and yield outsized benefits. To guide these interventions, we distilled scattered findings from behavioral science into a simple framework, the four Ps of behavior change:

  • Process
  • Persuasion
  • Possibilities
  • Person

The framework helped us structure a portfolio of strategies for making healthy choices easier and more enticing and making unhealthy choices harder and less tempting. Below, we present a brief example of each point of intervention….(More)”