Self-Management Nudge & Sustainability: From the Dianosis of a Tension to a New Normative Grounding

Signe Hertz Christensen & Tessy Martine Aulner

Student thesis: Master thesis


This thesis investigates the simultaneous use of self-management and nudges in organizations. Self-management represents a resiliency of behavior, whereas the initial idea of nudge circumvents this. Tensions arise when self-managing employees are nudged. This raises the question of how employees can be self-managing when their behavior and decision-making are subject to nudges. We engage with the concepts of self-management and nudge through a conceptual methodological approach. This philosophical thesis aims to contribute to the understanding of the concepts of self-management and nudge. We do this from a critical perspective in order to improve the practical application of the concepts. Furthermore, we take point of departure in secondary data, Work Rules! by Laszlo Bock, to illustrate the concepts in practice.
The conceptual analysis builds on a diagnostic and a normative part. The diagnostic analysis displays how the concepts are used in contemporary work-life as well as how the limited understanding of the concepts poses a challenge to the success of their application. In addition, we set forth how managers engage with their task as decision architects and identify the tensions that follow thereof. The diagnosed tensions between self-management and nudging influence the ability to self-manage. We argue that self-management becomes a façade when autonomy and decision-making are decreased. The move from the diagnostic analysis to the normative analysis highlights the claim that nudges should not only incite employees to overcome cognitive biases but should also provide deliberation. With the establishment of new normative requirements, we develop a new type of nudge, sustainable nudges. We claim that the effect of nudges must be sustainable in order to build resiliency in character and ensure stable self-management.
Finally, we discuss the ethical aspects of nudging with the aim of identifying what a ‘good’ nudge is. We show how the normative value of a nudge varies when nudged as a citizen or as an employee. The discussion reveals the relevance of sustainable nudges both in governmental policy and in organizational management. We conclude that the use of nudges in organizations collides with the ideas and values of self-management. The conceptual analysis conveys a better understanding of the individual concepts of self-management and nudging, which contributes to filling the gap of knowledge between the practical implementation and the theoretical foundation by conceptualizing sustainable nudges. This type of nudge triggers deliberation, or in Kahneman’s terms, system 2 thinking, and improves the ability to self-manage. Lastly, we put the societal challenges of the current COVID-19 virus in perspective to our findings and reflect on how nudges are used in the fight against the virus.

EducationsMSc in Philosophy, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2020
Number of pages125
SupervisorsMorten Sørensen Thaning