Mark ZuckerbergI know what you’re thinking: how could Mark Zuckerberg possibly be related to making good benefits decisions?

Well, there’s at least one thing: decision fatigue. Zuckerberg realizes that decision fatigue is a real, proven phenomenon, and he’s taken steps to minimize it. Similarly, a good decision-making process for selecting benefits will account for decision fatigue and employ strategies to minimize it, too.

Decision Fatigue – The Struggle is Real

Decision fatigue saps people’s ability to, you guessed it, make decisions. It turns out that everybody has a finite amount of daily energy to make decisions, and throughout the course of a day you deplete it as you make decisions. (If you’re interested, here’s a great article from the New York Times that describes the science and study of decision fatigue).

And it’s not just big decisions like what job to take, who to hire, where to live, what car to buy or what health insurance plan to pick that sap this precious decision-making fuel. Believe it or not, everyday decisions like paper or plastic, fries or onion rings, striped shirt or plaid shirt, chocolate or rainbow sprinkles, and exercise bike or treadmill also drain us of our ability to make good decisions.

Bottom line: You need to preserve this energy.

Mark Zuckerberg has taken this energy-preservation idea to heart in a dramatic way by eliminating the need to make decisions on what clothes to wear each day: every single day, he wears a hoodie and grey t-shirt.

Zuckerberg closet

Mark Zuckerberg’s Closet – for real

In fact, Zuckerberg is quoted as saying:


‘I feel like I’m not doing my job if I spend any of my energy on things that are silly or frivolous about my life.’


Now, am I advising that we all chuck our wardrobes into a dumpster and Be Like Mark? No. A lot of us think picking out clothes can be kind of fun! However, I think most people do share Zuckerberg’s desire to not waste any more effort than necessary…when it comes to choosing their benefits. If your employees could just reach into your company’s benefits-closet and pick something that really works in 3 seconds, they’d do it in a heartbeat. And not only would this make the process less stressful for them (and you, because of the reduction in questions you’d see), the time they’ve to save very well to could set off a butterfly effect in which they’re able to focus better on your business, which would make them more productive, which would make them more like Mark Zuckerberg. And if your employees do that, you’ll be completely justified to go ask your boss for a raise. Thereby moving you closer to Mark Zuckerberg’s net worth. (See what I did there? :))

Fight decision fatigue at your company now

So…how should you go about creating your company’s army of Mark Zuckerbergs, other than instituting a draconian dress code? Here are three suggestions.

1) Eliminate the number of choices that your people need to consider when making a decision.

Experiments have shown that reducing the number of choices or potential outcomes leads to more follow-through and completion of tasks that require decisions or comparisons. So, look for ways to cut out unnecessary choices like too many choices don’t enable satisfaction; having too many choices (too many insurance plans or too many 401k funds, for instance) actually leads to lower satisfaction and a type of paralysis that’s explained by the paradox of choice.

Bottom line: Make the choices and information as few, impactful and relevant as possible. Be ruthless and always on the lookout for information and choices that you can eliminate. Strive to communicate on a one-to-one basis as much as possible.

2) When it’s unavoidable and there are a bunch of choices to be made, don’t present them all at once to your employees – break them up into bite-size chunks.

Sometimes it’s unavoidable, and lots of decisions and choices have to be made to complete a process (like choosing healthcare benefits). Though it may feel like you’re doing your employees a favor by bundling up all of this information and sharing it all at once, resist the temptation!

Think about how the employees will feel if they’re presented with an endlessly long form with all sorts of required information to fill out. Yup, real bummer.

Rather than sending the catch-all form or massive package of information, ask a series of questions that build on each other, preferably ordered from easiest to most difficult. This allows your employees to build momentum as they are providing the information, and they’ll feel like they’re getting somewhere.

A company whose product does a fantastic job of this (well, other than ALEX… 🙂 ), is TurboTax. There are TONS of decisions and choices that a person has to make when completing her taxes. Note how TurboTax works. It doesn’t present a long tax form. It asks questions, one question at a time, and many times provides just simple Yes/No answer options. As the person works through the questions, the form is being filled out in the background. It’s a much, much better way to complete tax forms… even if paying taxes is still a bummer.

Bottom line: People naturally shut down when they’re overwhelmed with lots of information requests, especially about unfamiliar, non-engaging topics like benefits selection. So, at minimum, break the information requests up. And if you can make it engaging, so much the better.

3) Reveal specific, nitty-gritty, or out-of-the-norm details only on an as-requested basis.

When making decisions, the great majority of people want enough detail to feel confident that they’re making a good decision about an unfamiliar topic, but they don’t want so much detail to become an expert on the topic. It’s just too much work, and it’s just not relevant enough on a regular basis to make it worth their while.

So the trick is to find the right balance of leading and guiding the great majority of people to the decision that’s right for them coupled with providing easy ways to get more information to the small minority of people who want to learn more about why something is being recommended or how your plans work.

Again, it might feel expedient to give every employee every shred of information about a topic. (‘Hey, I’ll put everything in this document or on this web page, just in case someone needs it.’) But don’t do it! You’re just making their experience worse, making them work harder and driving them to decision fatigue faster. And your legion of Mark Zuckerbergs just got smaller. Boo.

Bottom line: Present what’s critical for the great majority of people to make a decision show that cleanly and clearly, and then move the other supporting items or nice-to-know information to places that people can get to easily if they want to. One way to tackle this is to link to a web page that details the more in-depth resources from an email or a letter as an add-on to your communication.

Bottom, bottom line

Decision fatigue is real, and if left unchecked, it will sap your colleagues’ energy. So go green and do your part to conserve precious and limited decision-making fuel. Your colleagues will make better decisions, both for their benefits and in their day-to-day job activities.

If you want to learn more about decision fatigue and how to help employees make better benefits decisions, check out the video below:

“How to Make Choosing Easier”, by a TED talk by Professor Sheena Iyengar of Columbia University:

YouTube video

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