How digital reminders reduced workplace tardiness by 21%

Intervention Employment and Work Performance, 

Abstract

Lateness and absenteeism can be a headache for coworkers, management, and customers. For corporations, it can also be a difficult problem to solve, as a person’s timeliness is almost entirely predicated on their own decisions and behaviour. Therefore, to improve worker punctuality, Nimble Software Systems, a US-based software company, developed a digital scheduling program that would send a reminder to employees before their shifts that encouraged them to arrive on time. Furthermore, the system allowed them to trade or pick up their coworker’s shifts which would lead to less absenteeism. Overall, the digital nudges proved to be quite effective, improving punctuality by 21% and reducing absenteeism by 16%.

Rating: 3/5 (results published by private organization, unclear if employee participation was voluntary)

How a digital scheduling app impacted employee tardiness and absenteeism for 1000 businesses across two years
Condition Results
No digital scheduling program Pre-intervention measurements were not provided.
With digital scheduling program 21% increase in punctuality and 16% decrease in absenteeism

Key Concepts

Digital Nudges: The extension of nudge theory into the digital space. Typically, it refers to the use of user-interface design elements to alter people’s behavior slightly, usually through behavioral software or notifications.

The Problem

How to combat chronic tardiness

If you have ever been part of a team, workplace, or organization, you likely know how stressful it can be when a person is late or fails to meet a deadline. While an occasional late assignment or arrival is understandable, chronic tardiness can be highly detrimental to achieving organizational goals. However, enforcing timely behavior has proven to be quite a challenging task.

While formal warnings and organizational punishments might lead to more compliance, they can also lead to tension amongst your team members. A more subtle way to solve this issue is to alter the decision-making context of the individual who decides to be late. Nimble Software Systems combined their software skills with behavioral science to solve this issue.

Design

The targets: mall security guards

Nimble Software Systems designed and implemented a system tailored to a very specific type of employee: mall security guards. When a mall security guard doesn’t show up for work, it can be detrimental to customer safety and a manager must scramble to replace them.  For the purposes of this study, they examined how the program helped JDS Security, a local security firm, as well as approximately 1000 similar companies. 

Digital communication and reminders

Nimble’s system would allow employees to view their upcoming shifts, trade existing shifts, and would send them reminders many hours prior to their shift start time. In the event that an individual had to miss a shift, the system would also send a message to their coworkers asking them to pick up the shift. 

These simple reminders, while very minimal, were a sufficient nudge to prevent employee absence without an adequate substitute. Furthermore, daily reminders allowed employees to plan out their day accordingly and arrive on time.

The EAST framework

The EAST framework can help explain the success of this intervention:

  • Easy: Using the Nimble system made the lives of employees and employers easier.
  • Attractive: Incentives for employers to reduce absences are salient and clear, which likely promoted uptake of the service.
  • Social: This intervention is social in that it creates opportunities for employees to support each other by taking shifts. It also creates a group norm of taking responsibility for one’s schedule.
  • Timely: Nudges via the system arrive in a fashion that is timely and allows employees and employers to plan their schedules. It is important that similar interventions consider the time at which nudges such as shift reminders occur because whether they work is highly dependent on whether employees have time to change their behavior.

Results and Application

A 21% decrease in tardiness over 2 years

All in all, Nimble Software Systems’ shift scheduling software allowed companies to reduce overall tardiness by 21% over its two year implementation period. Furthermore, the system allowed them to reduce overall absenteeism by 16%, over the same two-year period. 

Tackling tardiness and absenteeism

Overall, this shows how beneficial digital nudges can be for organizations across different industries. Assuring that workers show up on time is essential for our complex systems to run properly and makes our lives more efficient. As this is an issue that crosses multiple industries, the implications of software like Nimble’s are immense. If brought to scale, these nudging technologies could save millions of dollars, hours of time, and immeasurable amounts of stress. 

Industry

Application

Health & Wellbeing Patients could be send reminders for upcoming appointments to cut down on lost time and resources from no-shows
Financial Services Banks could send automated reminders to clients when they are near their spending limit for the month
Retail & Consumer The same technology can be applied to retail, particularly in-store employees

Ethics

  • No information about whether employees are briefed on Nimbled Software Service’s privacy policy or employees are able to opt out
  • Possible risks could arise if the software makes unrealistic expectations of employee arrival time. For instance, the additional pressure to get to work quickly could incentivize risky behavior, such as reckless driving. 
  • All information provided is from the CEO of Nimble Software Systems, a private and for-profit organization, which could potentially be a conflict of interest. 
Yes Room for improvement Insufficient information/Not applicable
Welfare
Does the intervention demonstrably improve the lives of those affected by it? Although there is little information about the impact on employees, it is likely their lives are improved by an enhanced ability to plan their time and trade shifts if necessary.
Does the intervention respect the privacy (including the privacy of identity) of those it affects? Unclear whether employees are briefed on Nimble Software System’s data privacy policy and whether they have the option to opt out if they do not approve of it.
Does the intervention have a plan to monitor the safety, effectiveness, and validity of the intervention? Data from 1000+ businesses overtime showed reduced tardiness of 21% and reduced absenteeism by 16% so the intervention seems to be effective over time.  Data on validity and safety was limited from this source. While not explicitly discussed, possible risks could arise if the software makes unrealistic expectations of employee arrival time. For instance, the additional pressure to get to work quickly could incentivize risky behavior, such as reckless driving. 
Autonomy
Does the intervention abide by a reasonable degree of consent? If employees are fully debriefed on the capabilities of the service, signing up can be considered the act of consent, however information is limited.
Does the intervention respect the ability of those it affects to make their own decisions? Unclear if employees have a choice of whether to use this service and be nudged.
Does the intervention increase the number of choices available to those it affects? The intervention can increase the choices available if employees feel it becomes easier to trade shifts and plan their lives, however more employee reviews in the article would be beneficial.
Equity
Does the intervention acknowledge the perspectives, interests, and preferences of everyone it affects, including traditionally marginalized groups? All information provided is from the CEO of Nimble Software Systems, a private and for-profit organization. As CEO, he would have a vested interest in promoting their digital nudge software, which could potentially be a conflict of interest. Any action based on these results should take this into account. 
Are the participants diverse? No data was provided.
Does the intervention help ensure a just, equitable distribution of welfare? Improving welfare via this system is possible due to an improved ability of employees to arrive to work on time and re-schedule shifts if necessary. 

Related TDL Content

How Effective Is Nudging?: Interested in how effective digital nudging is compared to other forms of nudges? In this piece, Dr. Dennis Hummel and Prof. Alexander Maedche break down the different kinds of nudges, emphasizing when they are effective, when they fail, and comparing the multiple forms they can take. 

Sources

Rafter, M. V. (2018, July 24). How digital NUDGES Transform workforce management. Chief Learning Officer – CLO Media. https://www.chieflearningofficer.com/2017/08/24/digital-nudges/