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Teaching Good Work Habits
Wednesday, August 30, 2017
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Good Work Habits: Self-Presentation, Timeliness, Organization, Productivity, Quality, Follow-Through, Consistency, Initiative

Basic work habits are matters of self-management, which has been a recurring theme in work nearly since our research first began. That’s because most of the managers I’ve ever met would rather not have to do all the hard work of managing their direct reports, but instead deal with employees who pretty much manage themselves. They seem to say, “Do everything you are supposed to do when and how you are supposed to do it, on your own, without guidance, direction, or support.” That’s about as ridiculous as the employees who think that self-management means, “Do whatever you want, whenever you want, however you want.”

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Both versions of self-management are fantasy land. They are the poles on opposite sides of the soft skills gap.

Today’s young employees tend to see these basic work habits as matters of personal choice or style and often do not see the concrete business reasons for the requirements or preferences of their managers. On the other hand, sometimes managers have strong preferences or requirements for which there is no true business reason. That is the prerogative of the employer. After all, you are paying your employees, not the other way around. But you should advise managers to choose their battles carefully on these issues. Every requirement (or preference) you impose on employees is one you will have to pay for somehow in the bargain; it is one less element of flexibility you will have to offer in the employment value proposition—one less bargaining chip you have.

For the most part, there are very good reasons for following established best practices when it comes to work habits:

  • When employees are unwell, there are increased health care costs and absenteeism, as well as diminished performance and impact on morale.
  • When employees do not attend to their grooming, attire, and manners, they make a negative impression on those with whom they interact.
  • When employees come in late, take long breaks, leave early, and miss deadlines, they add less value and they keep other people waiting.
  • When employees don’t take notes, use checklists, or follow good systems of organization, they misplace important information, lose track of what they are doing, and make it harder for others to coordinate with them.
  • When employees don’t pay attention to detail, they make more mistakes, causing diminished quality and requiring rework.
  • When employees cannot be counted on to follow through, projects are left unfinished, and others are distracted and inconvenienced by having to remind them.
  • When employees do not take initiative, opportunities are missed, and problems go unsolved.

These are all very strong business reasons for managers to enforce basic work habits on employees. But not all of them apply to all people in all jobs. Before you choose to impose a requirement or preference, at least ask yourself: What are the business reasons for this requirement? And what is the cost to you in terms of your flexibility in sweetening your employment proposition to your employees?

About the Author

Bruce Tulgan is internationally recognized as the leading expert on young people in the workplace and one of the leading experts on leadership and management. Bruce is a best-selling author, an adviser to business leaders all over the world, and a sought-after keynote speaker and management trainer.

Since 1995, Bruce has worked with tens of thousands of leaders and managers in hundreds of organizations ranging from Aetna to Wal-Mart; from the Army to the YMCA.  In recent years, Bruce was named by Management Today as one of the few contemporary figures to stand out as a “management guru” and he was named to the 2009 Thinkers 50 rising star list. On August 13, 2009, Bruce was honored to accept Toastmasters International’s most prestigious honor, the Golden Gavel. This honor is annually presented to a single person who represents excellence in the fields of communication and leadership. Past winners have included Stephen Covey, Zig Ziglar, Deepak Chopra, Tony Robbins, Ken Blanchard, Tom Peters, Art Linkletter, Dr. Joyce Brothers, and Walter Cronkite.

Bruce’s most recent book, The 27 Challenges Managers Face: Step-by-step Solutions to (Nearly) All of Your Management Challenges (Jossey-Bass/Wiley, 2014) was published in September, 2014.  He is also the author of the best-seller It’s Okay to Be the Boss (HarperCollins, 2007) and the classic Managing Generation X (W.W. Norton, 2000; first published in 1995). Bruce’s other books include Winning the Talent Wars (W.W. Norton, 2001), which received widespread acclaim from Fortune 500 CEOs and business journalists; the best-seller Fast Feedback (HRD Press, 1998); Not Everyone Gets a Trophy: Managing Generation Y (Jossey-Bass, 2009); Managing the Generation Mix (HRD Press, 2006) and It’s Okay to Manage Your Boss (Jossey-Bass, 2010).   Many of Bruce’s works have been published around the world in foreign editions.

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