How to Build Work Habits that Stick

“A habit cannot be tossed out the window; it must be coaxed down the stairs a step at a time.” – Mark Twain

If you want your team to adopt new ways of working, you’ll get better and lasting results if you provide a process and environment that fosters the cultivation of new ways of doing things. Even with support in place, it takes time to change behaviors. Psychologists suggest that most people need about 30 days to create a new habit.

Rules alone don’t change behavior. Neither do fines. Studies have shown that instituting fines to deter bad habits actually has the opposite effect. One study showed that when libraries don’t charge overdue fines, patrons return books faster than when fees are imposed. Another study looked at the effects of imposing fines on parents who are late to pick up their children from daycare. Parents who had been late when there were no fees, were even later and late more often once they had to pay fines. The thinking is that people interpret fines as fees: they are paying for the privilege to be late. if they pay a fine, they’re good.

So, if rules and fines don’t work, how can you motivate your team to adopt and keep new habits? Here’s what the experts suggest:

Prepare for the transition

When you inform your team that you want them to adopt new work behaviors, let them know well in advance and explain the purpose. If your team understands the rationale and benefits of the change, they’ll be motivated to do their best to adopt the new behavior.

Acknowledge slip-ups will occur

Before you implement the change, let employees know you empathize with the challenge of adopting new behaviors and will be providing support to help them as they form new habits.

Take a phased approach

If possible, consider if you can institute the transition in small steps to allow everyone to grow into new habits.

Provide visual cues

Inspirational words and images are a gentle push in the right direction.

Foster a peer-to-peer support system

Train one employee to serve as the “expert” on the transition and ensure that person has bandwidth to help other employees.

Establish accountability

Keep track of progress towards the goal and make the track record visible to your entire team.

Get feedback

Encourage your team to reflect on their experience of the transition and share any challenges. Their feedback may help to improve the transition process and improve overall results for all employees.

Celebrate small wins

As the team improves its adoption rate of the new behaviors, acknowledge their success.

The truth is changing habits is almost always challenging, whether it’s for work or our personal lives. A thoughtful process and supportive environment will improve your team’s chances for a successful transition, and a “we’re in all this together” attitude will make it a better experience for all.

If you would like to learn more about how this might apply to your business, let’s talk:

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