Designing nudges for the context: Golden coin decals nudge workplace behavior in China

Sherry Jueyu Wu, Elizabeth Levy Paluck

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


We conduct a field experiment in a Chinese workplace to illustrate that designing nudges requires an understanding of the motivational structure of a behavior, which includes recognizing people's subjective understandings of their local context. Workers in six production departments of a textile factory in China were unresponsive to the factory's rules and monetary incentives to throw waste in trash cans, rather than on the floor. We designed a nudge in the form of decals depicting golden coins placed on the production floors. The coins were intended to counter workers’ motivation to work without pause with their motivation to keep the golden coins uncontaminated by waste, given the shared belief that golden coins are an omen for fortune and luck. Using a stepped wedge repeated within-group design, we randomized which days the coin nudge was implemented, removed, and re-implemented in each department over a period of 5 months. We collected and coded daily pictures (7,927 total) of each production floor before, during, and after these “coin nudge” implementations and removals. Waste on the floor was significantly reduced by over 20% following the first coin nudge implementation, compared to baseline. However, the coin nudge was not effective when reimplemented, after coins were removed without justification. Removing and re-implementing the coin nudge may have shifted workers’ subjective interpretation of the coins. Results support the idea that nudges are not always off-the-shelf, given that they must recognize motivations and subjective interpretations within a particular context.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)43-50
Number of pages8
JournalOrganizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes
StatePublished - Mar 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Applied Psychology
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management


  • Behavior change
  • Construal
  • Nudge
  • Organizational science
  • Waste


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