Habits emerge without our permission. We live our lives driven by cues, routines, and rewards that have quietly developed over time. Rarely do we step back to ask, “Is this habit what I want?” Or more importantly: “Is this habit enabling or blocking my path to becoming who I want to be?”

habit blog

By Angela Parker

Habits don’t disappear, but they can be replaced. The secret is in identifying a keystone habit and building a structure around it where other habits can flourish. This structure establishes a culture where change becomes contagious.

What is a Keystone Habit?

Let’s assume you want to be more productive, more patient with your coworkers, and you want to exercise more. What keystone habit is likely to affect each of these goals? Sleep. If your goal is productivity, patience, and exercise, your keystone habit is: get 8 hours of sleep every night. Focus on your keystone habit and the other habits will flourish.

What does this have to do with corporate citizenship?

Corporate citizenship is about behavior change. Behavior change on a mass scale leads to culture change within companies. Change of this magnitude begins when new habits take root in the lives of employees. Volunteering? Sure, we want to volunteer – in many cases, we even believe we should. But we also want to lose weight and stop drinking. Why is it so hard to do what we want to do?


“Movements don’t emerge because everyone suddenly decides to face the same direction at once. They rely on social patterns that begin as the habit of friendship, grow through the habits of communities, and are sustained by new habits that change participant’s sense of self.”


It’s hard to do what we want to do because our lives are ruled by cues, routines, and rewards that we react to without thinking. When brake lights flash on in front of you, do you stop to think before your foot moves toward the brake pedal? Habits are how our brains remain efficient and help us survive – but they are also what can keep us from the results we want in work, relationships, and personal development.

Companies hope that their employee’s desire to volunteer alone will result in great participation rates in their corporate citizenship programs, as if it were a desire to go the gym or get up without hitting the snooze button. But the truth is, behavior change (habit change) is a psychological endeavor. The good news? Getting started is not as difficult as it sounds.

3 Steps to Making Corporate Volunteering a Habit

1. Dress it in Old Habits.

Our brains have a hard time accepting the unfamiliar. Most of what is new in our lives comes packaged in what we already know. New friends are introduced by old friends. New jobs include elements of old jobs. Even radio stations will play new songs in between Celine Dion and Norah Jones just to enable listeners to accept the new sound.

Package program participation in familiar habits. There are myriad ways to do this; here are some ideas:

Team building 
Most employees understand the value of team building and expect their managers to provide opportunities that promote and increase team effectiveness. Instead of a ropes course, try building a Habitat house.

Professional development
Volunteering offers a wider variety of opportunities to develop new skills and hone existing abilities than typical training or professional development courses.

Existing volunteers
Leveraging the experience, enthusiasm, and energy of employees who volunteer more than forty hours a year is dependable strategy for success. Find these champions of volunteering and collaborate with them as leaders to build your program.

Communication channels
Use existing forums to educate employees on what is available to them. Recently, when an RW client added upcoming volunteer opportunities to their morning team meetings, the resulting participation was immediate and significant.

2. Enforce it With Social Habits.

Movements don’t emerge because everyone suddenly decides to face the same direction at once. They rely on social patterns that begin as the habit of friendship, grow through the habits of communities, and are sustained by new habits that change participant’s sense of self.

  • Volunteers will participate for the first time because they were asked by someone they know. Capitalize on the power of friendship to increase participation.
  • Volunteers will stay because they’re part of a team. Use positive peer pressure and the influence of community to create commitment.
  • Volunteers will advocate for a program to which they feel a sense of belonging. Empower strong leaders to inspire a sense of ownership that will result in self propelling habits.

3. Make it the Keystone Habit.

At Realized Worth we refer to this as “the value bundle.” Do your employees crave meaningful social interaction, more time with their kids, and a chance to network with other departments at work? What routine can help them achieve these goals? Volunteering. Determine what’s in it for your employees and then bundle the value. Make volunteering the keystone habit that enables them to become who they want to be.

This strategy is essential because the opportunity to volunteer has to be evaluated alongside other motivational priorities that have been established over a lifetime. The more closely you can align the new behavior of volunteering with these existing priorities, the more likely employees will see volunteering as something that makes sense.

Still sounds hard?

Realized Worth would love to work with you to make volunteering a habit at your company. We exist for this very thing! Send us an email via contact@realizedworth.com and we’ll set up a call to talk about what you need and whether we’re the right people to get you there. You can also connect with us on our Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Thanks to Charles Duhigg for writing the brilliant book that informed this article. We strongly recommend you pick up The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business. It just might change your life!


Angela Parker
Co-founder/Partner, Realized Worth
Follow Angela on Twitter
Connect with Angela on LinkedIn

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