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How Workplace Rituals Can Improve Company Culture and Employee Retention

  • Recent research finds a 16 percent increase in how likely employees are to find their work meaningful when their company offers group bonding exercises
  • Rituals can recognize milestones and accomplishments, or take place more regularly
  • While there are plenty of classic rituals, companies can also be creative in making a unique experience

By Dirk Langeveld

When running a business or managing a team, leaders often strive to motivate workers by promoting the value of what they do. When employees are happy and fulfilled, it naturally follows that they’ll put in stronger performances and be less likely to quit.

One common way business leaders pursue this strategy is to establish rituals that recognize achievements, promote employee cohesiveness, or simply try to inspire workers. When done properly, these tactics can be an essential part of building company culture and showing employees that their work is appreciated.

Company rituals have taken on renewed importance after the disruptions created by the COVID-19 pandemic. As businesses consider more permanent remote or hybrid work options, they also need to find ways to improve bonding within the workforce.

Recent research by Harvard Business School professor Michael Norton highlights the impact that rituals can have on a company. His study found that when group bonding activities were performed at a business, it resulted in a 16 percent increase in how likely employees were to regard their work as meaningful. Norton said rituals also make workers more willing to put in extra effort to assist others at the company, such as working late to help a co-worker finish a project.

Norton’s research found that business rituals combine physical, communal, and psychological elements. Broadly speaking, this means that they consist of a specific action done together to create a certain feeling.

When rituals should occur

Rituals are often held to recognize milestones. They may recognize personal milestones, such as celebrations of an employee’s birthday or pregnancy, or milestones reached within the company, such as hitting their five-year anniversary with the business.

A company might also hold a ritual to recognize accomplishments achieved by a larger group of workers, such as reaching a sales goal. They can also accompany major transitions, such as leadership changes or the introduction of a new product or service, or take place more regularly, like a review of lessons learned after the completion of a project.

Ritual strategies

It can be tricky to implement rituals successfully. Some employees may have negative perceptions of a ritual, such as the belief that it’s wasting time, awkward, or offering only token recognition of workplace issues.

For this reason, any ritual should complement how teams already do their work and how the company operates. You can also encourage teams to suggest their own rituals, and provide resources to support them (such as a weekly stipend to encourage teams to have lunch together one day a week).

Rituals should accomplish a certain goal, such as getting new hires acquainted with the company, and eliminate pain points like disassociation within or between teams. Evaluate how well a ritual is working, and don’t be afraid to stop it if it’s not successful.

Types of rituals

Rituals don’t have to be big, expensive undertaking. One classic example is passing around a birthday card for co-workers’ signatures on an employee’s birthday, or recognizing worker milestones in a weekly newsletter.

Food is also a common element in company rituals, as it offers an easy way to bring people together and boost spirits. You might order pizza on the last Friday of the month, or hold a regular potluck lunch.

However, company rituals open up plenty of creative possibilities. Businesses have come up with rituals ranging from regular hackathons to Friday happy hours to ringing a bell to celebrate a major accomplishment. Consider your corporate culture and employee suggestions to come up with rituals that are unique to your workplace.

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