Building Positive Workplace Habits
Building positive habits at work can help us to progress towards our goals and achieve our potential at work. Knowing where to start when building these positive habits is difficult, but with the right knowledge and support, we can begin to promote positive habits and reduce negative ones.
What are habits?
Very simply, habits are behaviours that we engage in frequently and repeatedly. From a psychological perspective, habits are a process in which we are exposed to a cue that automatically triggers an impulse to act, due to an association our brain has learned between the cue and the behaviour (1).
The structure of habits
- The cue/trigger – the part of the habit loop where you are triggered to take some sort of action through a cue in your internal or external environment
- The action — this is the part of the habit loop where you actually take the action on the habit you want to adopt or drop
- The reward – this is the part of the loop where your brain receives a reward for taking the desired activity
Habits are often viewed as binary – smoking is widely considered a negative habit, whereas going for a daily jog may be considered a positive one. Although some habits are objectively positive or negative, many of our habits fall in the grey area in between – for example, even if you always cover your vegetables in cheese (negative), you are still eating the vegetables (positive). The overall goal is to replace progress hindering (negative) habits with goal-supporting (positive) habits to ultimately move us closer to achieving our goals (2).
Habits vs Routines vs Rituals
As discussed, a habit is defined by its non-conscious nature. Routines and rituals, however, are defined by their very conscious nature. Routines are a sequence of behaviours that are frequently followed in succession, for example to get ready in the morning, you may start by washing your face, then eating breakfast, then brushing your teeth, and so on. Rituals are similar to routines, as they involve following a regular sequence of actions, but the key difference is the level of meaning associated with them. For example, although eating a special occasion meal follows largely the same routine as a normal meal, the additional awareness of the moment and emotional associations make it feel special (3).
Habits at work
Just as we form habits, routines and rituals in our home lives, we naturally develop these behaviours at work as well. Some common examples include:
- Making a coffee before starting work each morning.
- Coming to work 10 minutes early every day (or 10 minutes late!).
- Taking turns to speak in a meeting.
- Starting every Monday meeting by asking how everyone’s weekend was.
- Having regular review meetings to focus on each staff member’s development needs.
- Regularly asking for and discussing feedback.
- Singing ‘Happy Birthday’ and sharing a cake for a colleague’s birthday.
- Celebrating the team’s achievements at key milestones.
- Signing a card and expressing gratitude to a colleague on their last day.
Making your habits work for you
Building new habits can be challenging, but by repeatedly and frequently engaging in the behaviours, we can form new habits. Building positive habits in the workplace can help to improve how teams work together, and how productive we are in our day-to-day working lives. Here are some tips to help you build those positive habits:
- Remove barriers – there may be a reason why you haven’t been able to form this habit in the past. Try to create space and time for you to practice the habit and for it to become engrained in your routine (4).
- Build in incentives – intrinsic motivation may not always be enough, but using rewards can help to make the behaviour more enjoyable and easier to stick to (5).
- Be patient – building habits takes time. Research has shown that some habits may be quicker to adopt than others (5)
- Start tiny – often we can form a habit by focusing on the first step. For example, if you want to write a to-do list on paper every day when you start work, start building the habit by just focusing on getting a pen out. This is the first step in the sequence and can act as the trigger for you to complete the rest of the behaviour – that is actually writing the to-do list (2).
How Impact can help
Building more positive habits at work and breaking the bad ones is a crucial step towards fulfilling your potential and achieving your goals. It is a process that requires strong commitment, a positive mindset, perseverance and resilience to overcome any challenges that you might encounter on the way. Coaching can provide the support you need to drive long-lasting behavioural change. We at Impact offer one-to-one and group coaching aimed at helping individuals and teams reach their full potential. To find out more about our coaching offers, you can contact us here.
2: Atomic Habits – James Clear