How to Combat Procrastination and Other Irrational Workplace Behaviors

We all behave irrationally in the workplace from time to time, and we all know it. We often know what we "should" do in certain situations, but many times we don't choose that option. You leave expense reports to the last minute, thinking that the pressure of the deadline will make you more productive; you know you are supposed to really pay attention at Monday morning meetings, but you let your mind wander; you know how to behave in business situations, yet you occasionally have a few too many drinks at happy hour or let your temper flare up when you are not assigned a certain project. Think you're exempt from this irrational workplace behavior? Think again.

The bad news is that we procrastinate even when we know we shouldn't; but the good news is that, as humans, we all behave irrationally sometimes -- and our irrationalities are what make us adaptable and trusting of others. Also, there are things we can do to combat workplace irrationality.

In his book, 'The Upside of Irrationality', behavioral economist and social scientist Dan Ariely delves into the universal problem of procrastination and how that hinders our ability to do what we should, leaving us to make irrational decisions. Through his own experiments, Ariely uses behavioral economics to understand why people procrastinate and behave irrationally in the workplace. "I particularly like behavioral economics in that it's not just about what we do wrong, but how we might go about fixing it," he says.

Here are some of Ariely's tips to "eliminate the bad and build on the good."

It's not all about money

Money is not always the answer. According to Ariely, the modern workplace -- especially the financial world -- has this ideology that it is all about the money, all the time; or in short, more money equals more motivation. Based on his research, Ariely believes this is wrong for two reasons. First, money alone does not lead effort. Second, more money does not equal higher performance.

Many people believe that they will find happiness and joy in their workplace if they do work with deep meaning, like working with children or saving animals. According to Ariely, you do not have to do something dramatic and amazing to find joy in your work, you just have to feel connected to your work in some way and appropriately rewarded for your efforts. Once you find this meaning in what you do, you will also find the joy in doing it.

"Businesses overlook the meaning factor all the time because they don't understand how important meaningful work is," Ariely says. His best advice for finding the joy at work: "A little goes a long way."

The IKEA effect

The "IKEA effect" is Ariely's way of describing the over-attachment people feel when they create something. For example, the man that assembles his entire living room with IKEA do-it-yourself furniture thinks that the furniture is more wonderful and useful than it really is, because he made (assembled) it with his own hands.

In the workplace, The IKEA effect can be detrimental to both employees and companies because individuals do not always look to others for guidance on projects or for new opportunities or solutions. At the same time it can be beneficial because it can keep people motivated and caring about what they are doing.

Ariely says that the trick is to not completely eliminate this effect all together, but to make the good side of the effect work to your advantage.

The not-invented-here bias

It is human nature to believe that our ideas are the best out there. To help balance these natural instincts, it is important to implement checks and deadlines, and to learn to share.

In the workplace, one of the keys to our success is setting up a system with checks to keep us on track and deadlines to keep us motivated and focused on the ultimate goal. It is also key to remember that if you work in a collaborative environment or on a group project, you need to share the workload as well as the rewards and credits. "By giving credit, you make others see beyond their own ideas," Ariely notes.

The case for revenge

Revenge is a natural instinct; many "wrongs" tempt us to seek our own form of justice. Because revenge helps keep people in check and following social norms, rules and laws, it can be a useful instinct.

However, Ariely warns, revenge is becoming increasingly dangerous in the workplace (think "reply all" on e-mail or nasty messages on Facebook), because with modern technologies, the harsh words can spread quickly -- making the potential for damage far greater than ever. In the end, this can negatively affect the entire working environment.

To avoid this type of toxic workplace behavior, Ariely says that it is important to pause to think about how out-of-control the emotion of revenge can be, and only then can we overcome it.

Advice to implement in your workplace
  • Learn to look at things from other people's perspectives so that we can give more rational advice and so that our own ideas are not clouded by our own preferences all the time .
  • For job-hunters, accept the fact that looking for a job is an unrewarding, tough process and is susceptible to all the problems of procrastination; so you need to be proactive and hold yourself accountable by making schedules and deadlines for yourself.

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