The Challenge of Changing Employee Behavior

graphic of a steep upward curve showing the challenge of Changing Employee Behavior

Changing Employee Behavior and Breaking Old Habits Are Hard
Changing employee behavior—or more simply put, exchanging one habit for another—is fraught with difficulties.  Anyone who has tried to keep a New Year’s resolution beyond January knows that it is an uphill battle.  Even when we know that the change (i.e. eating healthier, keeping a journal, maintaining an exercise regime, achieving a better work/life balance) will be in our best interest, we too quickly fall back into old patterns and less wholesome habits.

One Explanation
New research reports that our brains prefer the old routines; they are hard-wired that way because it takes much less energy.  If a behavior has worked for us in the past, our brains suggest we do it the same way next time…and thus a habit is born.

Let’s say, for instance, you want to increase your exercise program.    But that means you have to get up earlier or trade time at home for time at the gym.  This often takes more energy than your brain is willing to expend.  It’s far easier to stay with your current program and not push yourself.

Can Tools Help When Changing Employee Behavior?
There are a whole slew of products and programs designed to help support behavior change. When it comes to changing employee behavior, we believe that they alone cannot do the job.

Fitbit
Take the Fitbit for example.  It was touted as the answer to exercising more consistently and effectively…improving fitness and boosting weight loss.  However, studies say that such activity trackers offer minimal support and little to no advantage over standard weight-loss approaches.  For a while, you may take more steps, but there is virtually no lasting improvement to your weight or your overall health.

A More Comprehensive Approach Is Needed for Changing Employee Behavior
To change employee behavior for real, a more comprehensive habit change is needed.  You have to be able to follow change management best practices:

  • Change one goal for another that is more meaningful and more rewarding
  • Apply some discipline
  • Keep focused on the end result
  • Be clear what benefit you will get out of the change
  • Have consistent feedback and support from those around you
  • Handle and learn from some slip ups
  • Celebrate small and regular progress

Habits in the Workplace
Changing employee behavior in the workplace is similarly challenging to changing personal habits.  Employees, their coworkers and their boss all have to be convinced that the goal is worth the extra effort changing of behavior.  It helps to:

  • Write down the goal
  • Articulate the specific steps to achieve the goal
  • Ask for help from coworkers
  • Cut yourself some slack if you slip once or twice
  • Delight in each step in the right direction

The Bottom Line
Bad habits can be broken and new behaviors can supplant old ways of doing things.  Define your new goal, be ready to fight your brain when it directs you back to the old routine, and regularly reinforce the value of new habits and behaviors.

To learn more about changing employee behaviors, download The Must Have 7 Principles of Effective Training

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