Are You Discouraging Effective Behaviors?

There are five population areas around the world where people live longer than the average US citizen by almost 25 years. They don’t just live long, they live well, remaining vibrant and healthy as they age. They are called Blue Zones and researchers study them to find commonalities.

Obviously, diet plays a big role in the longevity of the people living in Blue Zones, but so does activity. However, these people don’t work out. As Dan Buettner, author of The Blue Zones, explains, “The world’s longest-lived people don’t pump iron, run marathons, or join gyms. Instead, they live in environments that constantly nudge them into moving. They grow gardens and don’t have mechanical conveniences for house and yard work. Every trip to work, to a friend’s house, or to church occasions a walk.”

When I moved to Boston, I loved discovering this integration of walking into daily life. Suddenly it was easy to walk 8 – 10 miles a day, sometimes 14, without even thinking about exercise. I loved ditching the car for months on end and walking everywhere for any number of reasons: to get groceries, to explore, to meet with clients, to go to a performance, to meet up with a friend. I absolutely fell in love with this lifestyle and decided I was done with the car culture of America.

I believe that if you want to be able to keep moving, you must keep moving. And that will forever be the driving force in my decisions, especially decisions about where to live. Pickleball, skiing, and hiking are favorite activities of mine and great exercise, but I don’t do them every day. I want to “live in environments that constantly nudge [me] into moving” so that every day is filled with significant activity.

The environment is critical. By living in the center of a city or town, you make walking easy, easier actually than driving. But the environment is not just critical for nudging activity by providing numerous reasons and places to walk. The environment is also critical in the workplace. Whether you know it or not, your environment is actively encouraging and discouraging specific behaviors from every single employee all day long. The easier it is for people to do what is desired, the more likely they are to do it and do it well.

Examine Your Work Environment

  • Does your environment make it as easy or hard for employees to do the right thing?
  • Do you “shoot the messenger” when someone reports a problem?
  • Do you overload employees with implementation responsibilities when they suggest an improvement?
  • Do bureaucratic procedures and forms make it easier to look the other way when a quality issue rears its ugly head?
  • Are managers so overloaded they have to choose between fulfilling your every request and developing their employees?
  • Are employees beaten down when their prudent risks, improvement efforts, and innovations don’t pan out as desired?

Questions like these are important and deserve attention. In the right environment, you can walk ten miles a day without “getting exercise.” In the right work environment, employees will do the right things with ease.

This is a valuable exercise for any workgroup. Set a blame-free tone by explaining the importance of the environment using examples such as mine. Then ask your employees in what ways the environment encourages less than ideal behaviors. You can then work together to reduce those negative forces and situations. Ask also about the ways in which the environment encourages preferred behaviors. These positive examples are good models for broader application and wider dissemination.

Become a Blue Zone of Effective Behaviors

A work environment that encourages desired behaviors can reduce employee performance issues, mistakes, conflict, management time and stress, inappropriate shortcuts, and excessive training and documentation while also improving productivity and profit. Set aside a little time at your next staff meeting to broach the subject and get people thinking about the unintended consequences of their environment. If they don’t respond immediately, encourage them to think about their environment and its effect on their attitude, decisions, and productivity. Over time, they will start to find the opportunities that will make your company a Blue Zone of effective employee behaviors.

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