Don’t let toxic workplace habits get in the way in 2018

A slice too far? Support employees to acknowledge unhealthy habits and consider their triggers

Addiction doesn’t have to mean substance dependency – many people have established toxic workplace habits that can make them unhealthy and unproductive. Karen Meager and John McLachlan from Monkey Puzzle Training look at how employers can help staff make the right choices.

When the word “addiction” comes up, most people immediately think of dependency on substances that are damaging to the body, either in the short-term like heroin or cocaine, or in the long-term, such as tobacco.

But addiction really applies to lots of different dependencies, because the concept of addiction is much more about the behaviour than the substance itself.

Many of these can manifest in the workplace, but because there is little likelihood of a person suddenly dropping dead from compulsive snacking or procrastination, such habits are not generally viewed like the addictions they really are.

If there are any workplace habits compromising your workforce’s health or performance, here are four simple steps to break free of them.

Identify triggers

Addictions hinge on habits, which are established when a person responds to particular triggers in the same way each time.

The important first step to conquering an addiction is figuring out why someone feels they need it in the first place.

If they have developed a habit of always going out for a cigarette when they see the only other smoker in your office, then that person may be the trigger.

If someone ends up eating biscuits rather than the salad they brought in because the biscuit tin is on their desk, then seeing it may be their trigger.

Not all triggers are so obvious: our brains may turn to our addictions because of certain smells, or certain temperatures, or certain times of the day.

In these cases, it may take a little more effort to figure out triggers, so employees should remember to consider this again the next time they feel compelled to indulge.

What are our needs?

A lot of thought and emotion goes into the foundation of an addiction, but because addictions so quickly become a case of habit, many sufferers completely overlook any logic that applies.

Think again about addiction, and what people might be seeking. When they feel a craving for their habit, what exactly is it that they want? Does avoiding challenges in the workplace give them a sense of security, or relief? Does having a cigarette allow them to unwind in a way they can’t seem to do otherwise?

By breaking the thought process of addiction down into steps, workers can figure out what reward they’re seeking, and how to reach the same conclusion without sacrificing their health or performance along the way.

Replacing a habit

Once someone knows what exactly they take from addictive behaviour, they can consider healthier alternatives.

It is common for people to replace unhealthy addictions with healthy ones – particularly for those with addictive personalities – so think about ways they could reach their desired results and sidestep the negative consequences.

If someone avoids challenges in the workplace because they want to feel secure, it might be worth a manager discussing with them how to take small steps towards taking on greater professional responsibilities that aren’t in life-or-death situations.

If they enjoy having food on their desk, encourage them to swap it for healthier foods. As with any addiction, this new one will also be a case of habit, so give it time. It doesn’t take long for people to feel comfortable with a status quo, and most feel more motivated when they start seeing the benefits of positive change.

Counteracting stress

One of addiction’s other key traits is that it is often positioned to counter an anxiety or problem in the individual, so finding healthy ways to relax at the end of a day is the final step in stamping out workplace addictions.

Everybody’s preferences are very different, so employees should be encouraged to consider what things in life take the weight off their shoulders.

Whatever they choose doesn’t have to be huge but it is important to be able to unwind properly outside the workplace.

Addictive behaviour is a vast field, and many habits are not recognised by the average person as an addiction.

But when we adjust our perspective on the ways we behave in the everyday, we can make positive changes in life.


About Karen Meager and John McLachlan

Karen Meager and John McLachlan work for Monkey Puzzle Training and are co-authors of Time Mastery: Banish Time Management Forever.
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