How to Get Employees to Ditch Bad Habits

Joseph Stubblebine
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Changing employee behavior is no small undertaking; in fact, according to "The Financial Post," about 70 percent of change initiatives are doomed to fail. Given the high failure rate, planning and careful execution are crucial when you are trying to get employees to ditch their bad habits.

In an individual employee, bad habits don't make much of a mark on your organization. When they start to spread across the organization, however, they can have more widespread impacts. By taking action and changing employee behavior early on, you can avoid an epidemic.

Achieve Employee Buy-in

In order for change to truly take root in your company, your employees must buy in to the process. To achieve buy-in, you must explain what changes you want and why you want them to happen; your staff must believe that it is one of the company's top priorities. Explain how the current behaviors are negatively impacting the company and the employees, using hard data whenever possible. Appeal to them first as people, not as subordinates. Invite them to offer feedback, and consider it seriously to make sure everyone's voice is heard. When it comes to changing employee behavior, involvement and engagement are crucial.

Reward New Behaviors

When your employees have developed habits that are not conducive to a high-functioning work environment, it is important to communicate the behaviors you would like to see instead—and then reward them. For widespread habits, implement an incentive system designed specifically for changing employee behavior. If your staff's poor health habits are causing an overload of sick time, for example, start a health incentive program that offers everything from free gym memberships to special office privileges. Choose rewards that appeal to your employees; options include free theater or sports tickets, access to a company retreat property, cash or extra vacation time.

Lay Down the Law

In some cases, changing employee behavior requires an authoritarian touch. When the poor habits are infringing on general company policies or basic professional behavior, don't bother with getting buy-in or finding a reward system—lay down the law. If your employees have started taking overly long lunches or coming in late, for example, inform them that violations without cause will no longer be tolerated. Enforce company policy regarding infractions, whether that means a report to human resources or another consequence. For bad behaviors that are out of control, you might need to implement a negative reinforcement system by docking pay, passing on busy work or requiring employees to come in on the weekend.

Changing employee behavior is rarely easy, but your efforts can have long-term positive effects on the company. By planning your approach, working with employees and knowing when to get tough, you can boost your chances of success.

Photo courtesy of Ambro at


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