Have You Tried Rituals as An Employee Retention Plan?

BY Tim Londergan
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Rituals unite us. Birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, and even those occasions invented by Hallmark. Unquestionably, rituals are powerful in bringing people together. If you are fortunate enough to think of your workplace as family, then you already understand the appeal of rituals. However, have you considered that rituals may be the key to creating an effective employee retention plan?

Ritualistic synchrony: the ultimate employee retention plan

Momentarily, think about the creative process of music or a live show. Consider the practice, timing and the organization that occurs during that performance. Undoubtedly, this does not happen by accident. On the contrary, this harmonization takes hours of practice and choreography to perfect the on-​stage performance. Clearly, this is synchrony: defined as matching actions in time with others. According to the University of Wellington, synchrony has been associated with a range of phenomena, including increased affiliation, connectedness and cooperation among group members.

Now, bring these two concepts together. The result is a synchrony of rituals that blend over time as your team engages in the common purpose to succeed. Obviously, these rituals don’t have to be a major presentation. In fact, this practice can be a prelude to a weekly meeting or a Monday morning greeting. Importantly, rituals establish an informal, inclusive, participatory outlet for people to connect. Certain personality traits are more accepting of rituals, and it helps to have a firm grasp on the traits of your employees. But, ultimately, connected workers are happier, more productive and less likely to leave.

Rituals give meaning to work

Rituals may take on various forms such as superstitions, specific routines, ceremonies, or have a focus on food. Writing for the Harvard Business School, Kristen Senz reviewed a recent paper entitled, Work Group Rituals Enhance the Meaning of Work. By surveying workers, the authors of the study found that group rituals have three core elements: physical, communal, and psychological. First, the physical element includes specific words or actions. Second, the communal portion is that it is done by all members at the same time. Finally, the psychological part, developed over time, is symbolic to where it just feels good to do it this way. Nearly half of the study participants who completed activities with the above elements reported finding more meaning in their work. Thus, including rituals in team activities can be a powerful addition to an employee retention plan.

Rituals can provide confidence and relieve stress

While seemingly silly or bizarre, rituals take on many forms. Several sports figures like Michael Jordan, Wade Boggs and Curtis Martin have peculiar routines that they simply must perform before each game. Likewise, when people deal with grief, they may engage in a routine that provides comfort. These instances and more are covered by authors, Francesca Gino and Michael Norton in an article entitled “Why Rituals Work.” Apparently, rituals can relieve anxiety, build confidence and reduce uncertainty. Therefore, it’s not a stretch to see how rituals performed as a team can be a reasonable addition to an employee retention plan.

Creating workplace rituals

According to the authors, rituals cannot be mandated. However, they can be encouraged and provided for in terms of resources. Additionally, they should be driven by the employees and stimulated with the blessing of management. Nevertheless, managers should keep their distance and attend only if invited. Overtime group rituals will create a sense of meaningfulness that members transfer to their work. Norton says, “It's not that we do rituals and then, magically, we like doing our work later that day,” he says. “It's that over time, rituals themselves become meaningful to us—a sense of ‘this is how we do things around here.’ And that meaning is then linked to find more meaning in the work that we do.”

Photo by Thomas Kelley on Unsplash