Aug 27, 2018 in Viewpoint

What science says about workplace habits

Employees who are resistant to change can make implementations a challenge. So how do you implement a new workplace strategy, a new software tool, or even move a desk without upsetting employees?

Anne Wernand
by Anne Wernand

The first step is understanding why it upsets them in the first place. Habits are a big deal, about 40% to 45% of what we do every day feels like a decision, but it’s actually a habit. In the context of activity based working, habits become the obstruction, the negative. But habits actually do us a great favor; they give us more time to focus on our task.

Possibly, because this space characterizes all kinds of cues that enables employees' automatic pilot. They don’t have to think about certain behavior, such as walking into the office and sitting down so they can focus on the tasks that need to be done. When you change this... you're actually asking them to reset this automatic pilot, this is also known as changing your habits. Which is, as we all know, not as easy as it may seem. Many employees have deep-seated habits relating to their workspace, and the power of habit is one of the biggest risks to workplace change programs.


The power of habit is one of the biggest risks to workplace change programs.


Changing the workplace habit

What happens in our neurology is that most behavior originates in the prefrontal cortex, the area right behind our forehead. What we think of as thought, that’s where it occurs. It’s one of the newest, from an evolutionary perspective, parts of our brain. But as a behavior becomes a habit, as it becomes automatic, it moves into the more deeper structures of the brain. And when things happen in this area, it doesn’t feel like thought. That’s why a habit feels automatic because it’s happening in the part of your brain that is (as we think of it) completely free from thinking.

You can imagine; creating change in this part of the brain takes a lot of energy and time. But that doesn’t mean it can’t occur. Change might not be fast and it isn’t always easy. But with time and effort, almost any habit can be reshaped. On average, it takes more than 2 months before a new behavior becomes automatic. And how long it takes a new habit to form can vary widely depending on the behavior, the person, and the circumstances. Employers need to keep this in mind when they implement activity-based working or in our case; a software product. One of the things you can do to make this change easier is breaking down the preferred behavior in chunks. This allows employees to adapt and adjust their habits in a more gradual process.

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