As James Clear notes in his wonderfully useful novel, Atomic Habits, human beings have been procrastinating for so long that even the ancient Greeks had a word for it: Akrasia.
Today, as most of us are under a shelter-in-place order and have settled in to working remotely, we wonder about the long-term impact this will have on our lives. Can we maintain both our personal and business lives within this “new normal”? Will we fall victim to distractions and excuses further leading us down the road of procrastination? Or will we rise above and find new meaning in our daily routines?
Arguably, the source of our distractions has monumentally grown in recent years and even more so in recent days. As technology has evolved, so too have our distractions. Smart devices, instant notifications, social media, are all at our fingertips 24/7. Many people were already spread thin working full-time, while balancing all the responsibilities of home-life, going to school full or part-time, and finding “me time” to pursue hobbies and stay healthy.
Today, we’ve added another layer of distraction. Perhaps you now need to worry about home-schooling, setting up structured time for the entire household, or helping out family and friends as we navigate these unprecedented times. Has structure and consistency gone out the window? Do you feel you have earned the right to procrastinate during work or at home because the world, your world, has been turned upside down?
“Behavioral psychology research has revealed a phenomenon called ‘time inconsistency,’ which helps explain why procrastination seems to pull us in despite our good intentions. Time inconsistency refers to the tendency of the human brain to value immediate rewards more highly than future rewards” writes James Clear.
So what is the long-term effect of procrastination on businesses in today’s world and the challenges we face? For some the answers may seem clear, for others not so much. Enter rewards and recognition. We all seek to be immediately recognized for our contributions and hard-work, but in today’s world how can we quantify this? Is there justification for this extra spend to keep people engaged and on-track, steering them away from the slippery slope of procrastination? The simple answer is yes, however it may require a larger commitment; and not only is this doable, but quite frankly, needed.
As leaders, we are being called upon to do more to help our businesses and support our employees. We need to check in with our people on how they are doing both personally and as it relates to their day-to-day responsibilities. Do they have everything they need to get the job done? Do the feel connected to their peers in this time of isolation? Do they feel appreciated for the work they are doing just to maintain normal business operations? Are they being recognized for stepping-up and doing more during this time of crisis?
This is the time to acknowledge where the extra incentives are needed and try to proactively stave off procrastination, but also recognize those who are going above and beyond. Immediate rewards and recognition can positively affect the long-term goals of your future organization. Now is the time to send that care-package with fun or necessary tools to keep people engaged.
Or better yet show public recognition on the weekly conference call to those who have picked up extra responsibilities or streamlined processes that fit in with our new forms of communications like conference calls and video meetings. Shout-outs and virtual high-fives from management and peers are greatly appreciated, but don’t miss out on the opportunity to provide monetary recognition for those extra special occasions.
As humans we not only want, but need recognition. Recognizing your employees not only shows your appreciation, but reminds them of the role they play in driving company success. Your employees are the foundation for your business and their contributions, both today and in the future, should be recognized.
Sure, there are lots of ways to recognize employees (and we talk about a lot of them), but do you know why people need to be recognized? We recently spoke about the IRF’s behavioral economics research and how to apply that to your business. The neuroscience behind behavioral economics can help us understand why we should recognize people.
As a quick background, behavioral economics helps employers understand what motivates their employees. The research tells us that behavioral economics, “Integrates social, cognitive, and emotional factors to more fully explain human decision-making biases and challenges long-held traditional economics assumptions.” These assumptions include the notion that decision-making is rational, as opposed to emotional. Neuroeconomics digs a little deeper to reveal some really interesting findings in the human brain.
Perhaps the most important finding so far, is that all forms of rewarding someone are processed in “the brain’s master reward center, the striatum, and are experienced as rewarding feelings.” Neurons are fired when an employee is rewarded or recognized, which creates positive emotions, feelings, or associations. The more highly positive experiences someone has throughout their time with a company or organization, the more positive emotion that person will associate with it. By rewarding and recognizing employees (both tangibly and intangibly), you are creating and building those emotions and associations to the “job well done.” These emotional stamps trigger the employee to relate their hard work to the recognition, which in turn, as we know, is beneficial for everyone. Individual productivity is increased, office climate is improved which fosters better teamwork, greater employee satisfaction… the list goes on. The more it happens, the more it will continue to happen and become the norm within your organization.