Work Habits of an Excellent Employee: 5 Habits and How to Actually Make Them Stick
August 19th, 2021 – Reading time: 4 minutes
Implementing positive working habits can help you go from an average employee to an excellent one. But what is a positive working habit?
A working habit is an action that has been repeated often enough to become a regular practice in the workplace. A positive working habit is one of these working habits that supports your efficiency, productivity or reliability in the workplace.
So, why don’t we all just implement positive working habits today? Then we will automatically be excellent employees, right? Well, it is not that simple. There has been a lot of research on habits over the years and what we have learned is that making a habit stick takes a lot of work – actually 18 to 254 days of repetition.
What research has also told us is that this hard work to implement positive habits is worth it. 45% of our daily behavior is attributed to habits. You can think of habit behavior like our brain turning on autopilot, which it prefers over making proactive decisions.
With half of our behavior resulting from our ingrained habits, you may see why having positive habits in the workplace is so important. This is actually what many highly successful professionals attribute their success to. But where do we start? How can we start the process of implementing positive working habits? This can be split up into three steps:
Understand the workplace behavior you would like to make into a habit.
Identify a cue that triggers this positive behavior. Every time this cue occurs, start the desired behavior. In the future, when the cue occurs, you will know that it is time to behave in a certain way.
Reward the positive behavior. Our brain craves the chemicals that are released when we are rewarded. Just like Pavlov’s dogs who salivated when a bell rang due to the past reward of food, we are more likely to behave in the desired way if we were rewarded for it in the past. In the workplace this can commonly look like praise or a successful outcome of your work. If the reward does not come directly after the behavior, remind yourself of the positive that will eventually come out of the desired behavior. This can trick your mind into thinking you have already received the reward.
Below, you will find some behaviors in the workplace that if successfully implemented as a habit, can positively affect your work behavior for years to come. Along with the listed behavior, you will find potential cues and rewards that can remind you to repeat the desired behavior. Be consistent and stay patient – eventually (18-254 days), you will not have to manually go through each step above. The cue will come and you will naturally act out the desired behavior without thought. It will become a part of your brain’s autopilot mode that it loves so much.
Positive working habits:
Ask for feedback. Don’t wait until your manager approaches you about your performance to gather feedback. Get into the habit of approaching your manager for feedback on a regular basis. This can be as simple of a question as „Do you have any feedback on my current performance?“ If your manager gives you positive feedback, this will give you the reassurance and confidence that you are on the right track. If they give you negative feedback, this will provide you with areas to work on. Rather than taking it as „negative,“ take it as an advantage that you have become aware of an area that you can improve.
Cue: Questioning your own performance -> Action/Habit: Ask for feedback -> Reward: Feedback collected (reassurance or areas to work on)
Be proactive. Proactivity is one of the best skills I have learned since graduating college. I went into my first full-time position thinking that if I do what I am told and do it well, then I am an excellent employee. What I soon came to realize is that in order to a.) stand out and b.) feel the impact you are making on your company, you must go beyond what is asked of you. Make it a habit to identify areas that could be improved and instead of stopping there, take the extra step to talk with your manager about how you can support.
Cue: Thought that something can be improved -> Action/Habit: Be proactive. Talk to your manager about how you can help -> Reward: Your manager recognizing your proactivity
Frequently Report. Sending status reports to your manager is key to highlighting what you have accomplished. Every manager has a different preference as to how they would like to review your performance reporting. Find out your manager’s preference early on and identify how frequently to send out this report.
Cue: Day of the week or reminder on calendar -> Action/Habit: Send out status report -> Reward: Increased trust with manager
Plan your day. Get into the habit of laying out your tasks for the day using a task manager tool. This can be done at the beginning or end of each work day.
Cue: Time (beginning or end of work day) -> Action: Plan day -> Reward: More prepared and therefor more productive
Ask questions. Instead of wasting time being confused on a task, get into the habit of asking questions when you are confused.
Cue: Confusion on task -> Action/Habit: Ask question(s) -> Reward: No more confusion. Saving time.
If you have any other positive working habits to share that were not already listed, feel free to share.
For further details on how to implement a habit, I recommend the book The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg.