In today’s fast-paced corporate world, the quest for improved business performance has led companies to explore various strategies. One increasingly recognised approach is the promotion of healthy habits among employees. While it might seem counterintuitive to connect health and business performance, research and real-world examples reveal a strong correlation between the two.
All about habits
At the core of every habit lies a fundamental pattern that governs human behaviour—the Cue-Habit-Reward framework. Regardless of the nature of the habit, whether it’s related to health, productivity, or personal development, this framework remains constant.
The cue serves as the trigger, prompting the habit to unfold, followed by the habit itself, which is the routine or action. Finally, the reward, often a positive outcome or sensation, reinforces the habit loop. This universal blueprint reveals that while habits vary widely in their manifestations, the underlying mechanism driving them—cue, habit, reward—remains consistent, offering valuable insights into how habits are formed, sustained, and modified.
Thinking of this framework through an organisational context, below are examples of good habits and practices that this can be applied:
- Daily Task Prioritisation: Cultivating the habit of daily task prioritisation can significantly enhance productivity and time management in the workplace. The cue might be to start the workday or a designate time for planning. The habit involves reviewing tasks, determining their importance and deadlines, and creating a structured to-do list. The reward is a sense of clarity, accomplishment as tasks is completed, and reduced stress from organised work. By consistently prioritising tasks, employees can focus on what matters most, avoid last minute rushes, and achieve a better work-life balance.
- Active Listening in Meetings: Developing the habit of active listening during meetings can greatly improve communication and collaboration within the organization. The cue might be the start of a meeting. The habit involves fully engaging in the discussion, avoiding distractions, and asking questions for clarity. The reward is a better understanding of the topics discussed, improved rapport with colleagues, and the ability to contribute meaningfully to the conversation. By practicing active listening, employees can enhance their interpersonal skills, foster a culture of open communication, and drive more effective decision-making.
- Mindful Breaks: Incorporating the habit of taking mindful breaks throughout the workday can contribute to employee well-being and mental clarity. The cue could be designated break times or moments of stress. The habit involves stepping away from the workspace, practicing deep breathing, stretching, or brief mindfulness exercises. The reward includes reduced stress levels, increased focus upon returning to work, and improved overall mental health. Encouraging mindful breaks allows employees to recharge, manage stress, and maintain optimal cognitive performance throughout the day.
It’s also good to be mindful of how this can work the other way, whereby cultural norms lead to unhealthy habits and practices, below are examples illustrate the point:
- Email Overload: The Cue-Habit-Reward framework can contribute to the unhealthy habit of constantly checking and responding to emails, even outside of work hours. The cue might be the notification sound of a new email. The habit involves immediately checking and replying to emails, even during personal time. The reward is a sense of responsiveness and the feeling of being on top of tasks. However, this habit can lead to burnout, disrupted work-life balance, and reduced ability to fully disconnect from work, ultimately impacting overall wellbeing.
- Excessive Multitasking: Multitasking, a habit often driven by the Cue-Habit-Reward framework, can lead to negative outcomes in the workplace. The cue could be a busy work environment or a perception of high demand. The habit involves juggling multiple tasks simultaneously to keep up with demands. The reward is a feeling of accomplishment and perceived efficiency. However, excessive multitasking can result in decreased focus, reduced task quality, and increased stress levels.
- Late-Night Work: The framework can contribute to the unhealthy habit of working late into the night. The cue might be a sense of urgency to complete tasks or a desire to catch up on work. The habit involves working long hours after regular work hours, sacrificing sleep and personal time. The reward is a temporary sense of progress and achievement. However, this habit can lead to sleep deprivation, impaired cognitive function, and negatively impact physical and mental health. Over time, it can decrease productivity and contribute to a cycle of chronic fatigue.
Cultivating Healthy Habits
Before delving into the connection between healthy habits and business performance, it’s essential to understand what constitutes healthy habits. Healthy habits encompass a range of behaviours that contribute to physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing. These habits can include but are not limited to regular exercise, balanced nutrition, sufficient sleep, stress management, mindfulness practices, and maintaining positive social connections.
If an organisation can help facilitate the process through various methods such as policies, systems and practice changes, a habit becomes easier to adopt. The opposite is also through but let’s consider the overall healthy employees and organisational performance.
The Link Between Healthy Employees and Organisational Performance
Enhanced Productivity and Focus: When employees adopt healthy habits, their physical well-being improves. Regular exercise and proper nutrition have been shown to boost energy levels, enhance cognitive function, and increase alertness. This translates into improved focus and productivity in the workplace. Healthy employees are less likely to experience midday slumps or mental fatigue, leading to more efficient work completion.
Reduced Absenteeism: Poor health is a common cause of absenteeism. When employees prioritise their well-being, they are less likely to fall ill frequently. This directly contributes to reduced absenteeism rates, ensuring that projects stay on track and deadlines are met.
Heightened Employee Engagement: Encouraging healthy habits demonstrates an employer’s investment in their employees’ overall well-being. This fosters a sense of loyalty and engagement among the workforce. Employees are more likely to feel valued and committed to a company that cares about their health.
Lower Healthcare Costs: Businesses often bear a significant portion of their employees’ healthcare costs. By promoting healthy habits, companies can potentially lower their healthcare expenditures. Healthier employees require fewer medical interventions, resulting in reduced insurance claims and related expenses.
Improved Team Dynamics: Healthy habits extend beyond physical wellbeing. Stress management and mindfulness practices can lead to improved emotional resilience. Employees who can manage stress are better equipped to handle workplace challenges, reducing conflicts and enhancing team dynamics.
How we create a culture of healthier habits starts with supporting people to make healthier choices, the more organisations can increase this capacity the healthier lifestyles we are likely to see in the future. All this of course impacts overall physical and mental health.
Organisational initiatives to promote healthier habits
- Regular Physical Activity Breaks: Encourage employees to take short breaks for stretching, walking, or quick exercises throughout the workday to boost circulation and reduce sedentary behaviour.
- Healthy Snack Options: Provide a variety of nutritious snacks in the office, such as fresh fruits, nuts, yogurt, and whole-grain options, to support healthier eating habits.
- Flexible Work Hours: Offer flexible work hours to accommodate employees’ personal schedules, allowing them to balance work and personal life effectively, leading to reduced stress.
- Mental Health Resources: Implement mental health awareness programs, counselling services, and mindfulness workshops to support employees in managing stress and maintaining emotional well-being.
- Standing Desks and Ergonomic Furniture: Provide ergonomic workstations, including standing desks and comfortable chairs, to promote better posture and reduce the risk of musculoskeletal issues.
- Wellness Challenges: Organise wellness challenges like step-count competitions, healthy recipe contests, or meditation challenges to foster camaraderie and motivate employees to embrace healthier habits.
- On-Site Fitness Facilities: Set up on-site fitness centres or partner with local gyms to make it easier for employees to fit exercise into their routines, enhancing physical fitness and overall health.
- Regular Health Screenings: Arrange for regular health screenings, such as blood pressure checks and cholesterol tests, to help employees stay informed about their health status and encourage early intervention.
- Educational Workshops: Host workshops on topics like nutrition, stress management, time management, and work-life balance to empower employees with knowledge and skills for healthier living.
- Remote Work Support: Provide resources and guidelines for maintaining a healthy work-life balance while working remotely, including tips for setting up ergonomic home workspaces and managing digital fatigue.
Whether you look at habits from an individual context or an organisational one, the principles remain constant. The Cue-Habit-Reward framework serves as a fundamental guide to understanding how behaviours are formed, repeated, and reinforced.
Recognising this framework’s influence allows us to make informed decisions about which habits we nurture and which ones we seek to transform. By acknowledging that habits are shaped by cues, driven by routines, and influenced by rewards, we gain the power to consciously shape our behaviours in ways that align with our personal well-being and the success of our organisations. In both spheres, embracing this awareness empowers us to strive for positive change, fostering healthier habits that lead to enhanced personal growth, improved workplace dynamics, and ultimately, a more prosperous and balanced life.
Fancy learning more?
If you or your organisation would like to learn more about this topic, Health at Work’s Habit Design Course takes a deeper look into the intricate workings of habits within both personal and professional spheres. This comprehensive course delves into the psychology behind habit formation, shedding light on how cues, routines, and rewards shape our behaviours.
With a focus on practical applications, the course equips participants with strategies to identify, modify, and establish habits that align with well-being and productivity goals. By understanding the foundations of habits and how they can be harnessed for positive change, you’ll be better prepared to create a healthier and more successful environment, both for yourself and your organisation.