One of the great challenges managers face is how to encourage staff to do things. You can pump up the benefits of collaboration, a work/life balance and the latest workplace productivity hack until you’re blue in the face, but there’s no guarantee anyone’s going to listen.
It may not be that people disagree with you, or that they don’t believe in the benefits of what you’re talking about, but getting people to adopt new behaviours is just hard. Apathy is real, and motivation is tough.
But when it comes to getting your people to adopt good workplace routines, there are a range of things you can do.
The benefits of routines
The whole point of having routines is to enable people to be at their best at work. Routines are about honing into what makes people tick so they’re productive and creative.
It includes things people do at work, and things they do outside of work that benefit them when they’re working.
A good routine is a very personal thing, and what works for one person won’t necessarily work for someone else. The key is having people find (and stick to) a routine that makes them feel good.
There’s a lot of research that has identified the benefits of having a good routine. One study found having regular work processes allows people to spend less energy on recurring tasks, giving them more brainpower for the complex stuff.
Author Mason Currey wrote about how artists say well defined work routines boost their creativity. New Zealand experts recommend having routines at the beginning and end of the work day to give the brain a break and minimise stress.
There’s plenty more to demonstrate the benefits, and realistically, these types of findings will surprise very few people. The benefits of a good workplace routine are fairly easy to comprehend - as an organisation, the trick is to encourage people to implement their own.
Routines vs workplace flexibility
Today’s emphasis on working flexibly may seem like it contradicts with the idea of a routine. However, with flexible work options now more and more mainstream, a routine that encourages productivity is actually more important than ever.
With less requirement to be in the office comes greater freedom, potentially productivity, and potentially less routine.
The critical thing to remember is that today’s flexible workplaces are actually more about finding your own routine than before. In the past, staff had to figure out a routine around rigid 9-5 office hours.
The flexible work schedules that are popular today doesn’t mean there’s less routine, it means greater ability to choose your own.
For workplaces that are open to flexible work arrangements, it’s important to encourage people to stick to a routine. There are all sorts of distractions when people are working from home, and routines help to stay on task and productive.
The organisation’s role in creating habits
Research shows that it takes, on average, 66 days to form a regular habit. The motivation people have to stick to a new routine will probably fluctuate as they’re getting it established, but the important thing is to be as regular as possible.
Someone may miss their morning walk one day, and that’s OK. Just make up for it the following day. Creating a routine that sticks doesn’t require linear progress, it’s an ongoing journey.
There’s no finish line either - you don’t just do something for 66 days and then expect it to be automatic from then on. Yes, it may require less conscious effort to do something once it’s a habit, but businesses and managers should continue to highlight the benefits of a routine to help people stick to them.
According to McKinsey, organisations can encourage staff to create routines in two ways - defining routines to start and stop, and by changing cues in the work environment.
Strategic workplace goals can be disseminated into encouraging individual behaviours that staff can form routines around. For example, if your workplace has a focus on collaboration, then you can emphasise routinely sharing materials and asking group questions.
This helps to encourage routine behaviour that aligns with company culture and priorities.
Routine activities are often the result of different cues. A regular cue prompts a regular reaction, and by creating those cues, you can help your people to establish routines.
McKinsey uses the example of Virgin Atlantic, who began sharing regular fuel usage reports, and in doing so, encouraged pilots to reduce how much fuel they used.
As an organisation, think about what your goals and priorities are, how you might translate them into individual actions, and how you can cue those actions in order to make them habits.
Implementing workplace routines
Beyond setting cues, how can you, as a manager or business leader, encourage your people to set routines?
Displaying behaviour you want to see in others is always a good starting point. By walking the walk, you show your team that it’s genuinely important. Conversely, if you hype the importance of a routine, but clearly don’t have one yourself, it will come across as empty.
Talk about your routine when the opportunity arises, particularly the benefits you feel you get from it. Remember, the point isn’t to get people to mimic your exact routine, but to find one that works for them.
Rather than trying to encourage new behaviour with a top-down approach, look to implement routines among certain team members first. When people see their colleagues getting the benefits of a routine, it will do more to encourage them than if their manager was doing it.
PMI recommends starting with a core team of people who are most open to change. They may already have a routine, or have shown a willingness to adopt one. By encouraging, or even incentivising, routine activities, you create a more organic movement.
Put routine activities in your calendar
Many good routine behaviours are lifestyle activities like exercise. People often find things like a morning run or a lunchtime yoga session do wonders for their productivity.
However, because they don’t seem like ‘work’, these things can slot in around everything else someone is doing at the time. This means they can be easily skipped, forgotten about or deprioritised. It subconsciously reinforces that they aren’t as important as that meeting they have in their diary, which may not be the case.
If someone has to attend a meeting rather than go for a walk that ultimately energises them for the rest of the way, the result may be a net loss.
Routine activities have clear benefits, and there’s no shame in prioritising them by putting them in your calendar. In fact, you can encourage staff to put these things in their diary first, to set the foundation for a healthy workplace routine that isn’t disrupted by a work meeting that could easily be scheduled for another time.
Make before you break
Not all routines are made equal. Good habits promote productivity, but bad habits can just as easily derail it. PMI cites the work of Ray Williams, author of Breaking Bad Habits, as saying it’s better to focus on creating good routines before trying to fix bad ones.
Creating habits also creates an awareness of how significant they are. This awareness is extremely helpful in encouraging people to break bad habits, and the challenge is much greater without it.
Creating individual routines
The next step is helping people to figure out what a good routine is for them. Are they a morning person or not? Does exercise stimulate them or drain them? What’s a good reward for them that will help to cement a routine activity?
So much of what makes a routine effective is personalised to the individual. Clearhead’s Finding Purpose tool has been developed to help shed light on what motivates people the most, and it includes a specific section on habits and routines.
By uncovering these inner-held motivations and encouraging people to create routines around them, you’ll give yourself a great head start in having staff want to stick to those routines.
To find out more, check out Clearhead’s Finding Purpose tool.