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The importance of rituals in the workplace for optimal employee performance

Workplace rituals are becoming increasingly popular with companies around the world, how can you make the most of them in your team?
Published 10 May 2022
8 min read
Woman holding box of colourful toys

In the sporting world, rituals are a key part of game day. Whether it’s Rafael Nadal’s pre-serve hair tuck and shorts adjustment or Tiger Woods’ red shirt on a Sunday, these iconic little details help athletes perform at their very best.

Rituals can do so many important things for teams and individuals; whether that’s getting them in the zone, boosting their energy, refreshing their motivation or providing a familiar comfort. So, why should athletes be the only ones to reap the benefits?

Workplace rituals are becoming increasingly popular with companies around the world. Research from the Harvard Business School has shown that some rituals have led to a 16% increase in how meaningful employees judged their work to be.

Eager to tap into the benefits for your team? Let’s uncover how rituals work and which ones you can start implementing today.

What is a ritual in the workplace?

A ritual in the workplace is any kind of action, activity or habit that has a positive impact on a workforce, team or employee. Most rituals are done regularly, but some can also be a one-off ceremonial act.

Just like in sports, workplace rituals exist on a wide spectrum. They can range from micro-rituals – like one person taking a deep breath at the beginning of the day – to macro-rituals, like teams celebrating an employee of the month.

Rituals sit outside of regular working activities. For example, completing a task as part of one’s everyday job would not be considered a ritual. However, giving your manager a high-five every time you finish a task would be. Rituals exist around our work to give us a sense of motivation, meaning and routine.

Why do rituals matter for remote work?

Rituals are perhaps even more important for remote workers, who don’t have the routine of travelling to an office, having lunch with colleagues or engaging in water-cooler chat.

Although we think that remote and hybrid working are the best working models for employee happiness and company productivity (we love it so much that we authored the Remote First Workplace Playbook), we also acknowledge that it means teams have to be more intentional about how they come together. Rituals can make it easier for teams to collaborate professionally and bond personally, by building this into remote routines.

For a remote working individual, personal daily rituals are also important when getting into that “workplace” frame of mind. Setting up regular rituals can help employees get set up for the day, and create clear boundaries at the end of a workday. Boosting everything from productivity to work-life balance and a sense of connection? Rituals are the secret sauce when it comes to effective and enjoyable remote working.

How can workplace rituals improve employee performance? 

Let’s drill down a little deeper into how workplace rituals can boost performance, making work more enjoyable and effective for your whole team.

1. They can shape company culture

Recently my manager brought a team of old and new employees together and, instead of just asking each person what they did in the business, asked each person to share their favourite piece of advice. This small gesture took us out of an awkward Zoom introduction and had us all thinking beyond the surface level. As each person shared their favourite advice, we instantly gained greater insights into their personality and values.

This is just a small example of how leaders can use rituals to influence the vibe of a workplace culture. Another ritual that we regularly enjoy at Employment Hero? At the end of our Friday All-Hands (all-staff) meeting, our musical colleague Andy performs a song live for the whole team.

These ritual acts aren’t difficult to establish (we bet you have your own Andy on your team), but they can make all the difference in creating a tone for a company. The message your team receives? We want you to have fun on the clock, we care about you as an individual, and we want our business to be a place where each person can be authentic.

2. They can boost focus

Whether you’re a tennis player, teacher or team manager, rituals will help get you ‘in the zone’. Rituals can act as the bridge between your working and non-working self. They’re habits that can help you get into a frame of mind that can help you dodge distractions and stay on task.

Sometimes a focus ritual might be related to the physical; a big deep breath, a quick walk around the block, a few star jumps. Or it might be more environmental; turning on your desk lamp or starting up your Spotify focus playlist. It might be something random that’s meaningful to you, like putting on a ‘lucky charm’ working necklace or singing your dog a little song.

However practical or strange it is, you’re providing your brain a marker between non-working and working time.

3. They can help during times of change

In an article for Forbes, Executive Coach Brian Gorman tells the story of how, during a merger, employees came together for a ceremony in which they could share what they wanted to let go of and take with them to the new company. The CEO through to junior staff noted down what they wanted to let go of, then threw these notes into a fire.

In the modern world, we don’t often make time for symbolic or ceremonial events. Taking the time to organise a ritual like this can help teams acknowledge what is lost, but also what is gained, during a significant transition. While it doesn’t have to be as big as coming together around a fire, setting up a one-off ritual where team members can honestly reflect can make all the difference during turbulent times.

4. They can help you recognise your team

According to Gallup, 65% of employees reported that they received no recognition over the last 12 months for their work. It’s a problem that leaders need to keep their eye on, as lack of recognition can quickly turn into high turnover – especially in these days of the Great Resignation.

We’d go as far as to say that the realm of employee reward and recognition is perfect for rituals. Rituals can help you build a culture of reward and recognition, making it more of a habit than something that managers are having to constantly carry.

Perhaps the most obvious workplace ritual to celebrate accomplishments is an employee of the month celebration; but we know that you want to show more creativity than that. If you want some inspiration to create kick-ass recognition rituals, download our free Ultimate Guide to Reward and Recognition.

But enough about the benefits – let’s get specific about what rituals you can implement right away.

Examples of effective remote working rituals

Are you guilty of rolling out of bed at 8.55am and starting work at 9am (maybe even still in bed with your camera off)? Look, we’ve all been there… But we can do better.

Giving these rituals a try can help you start your workday feeling energised and ready to go.

1. Getting dressed in ‘working’ clothes

We’re all more than familiar with Zoom fashion – button-up on top and boxers on the bottom – but only wearing half a work outfit can stop you from feeling like you’re truly at work. While you’re never going to wear a suit or pencil skirt around the house, it can be helpful to get a proper outfit on to make you feel more like your workday has started.

Consider investing in some comfortable jeans or trousers that are comfortable for home wear but still work appropriate. Maybe you even have a Steve Jobs-esque outfit that when you get into, you feel ready to work.

2. Stretch before any high-focus task

Are you working towards a big deadline? Maybe you want to have an uninterrupted creative brainstorm? Take a moment to stretch your body out before you get started.

Working from home, you don’t have to walk to meeting rooms or visit colleague’s desks – which can contribute to a sedentary lifestyle. When everything is accessible from your laptop, it’s all too easy to stay seated for hours on end, and this can make you feel sluggish.

It’s not only good ergonomics, stretching can get your blood flowing and help you feel refreshed for a productive session ahead.

Winnie the Pooh stretching in front of a mirror

3. Create a unique team identity or greeting

This one is more of a team effort, but if done correctly, it can be super powerful.

Building rituals around a shared identity is a great way to create bonds with your team, whether they are remote or hybrid. Teams adopting fun and ridiculous names is something that has been heavily adopted by tech companies in the last decade; it’s simple, but effective.

Beyond your team name, you can create unique team greetings, assign a team emoji and even set up team rewards. These rituals help your team become stronger and more united, while having silly fun along the way.

4. Turn off all of your tech at the end of the day

A lack of work-life balance is a very real issue for workers around the world. According to our Wellness at Work report, 53% of employees have struggled with this in the last 3 months. This can be especially tricky for remote workers, who blur the lines between the home and the office.

Our favourite effective ritual to combat this? When the end of your day rolls around, make it a point to turn off all of your technology. This won’t only conserve power, it will stop you from hearing or seeing any little notifications when you’re trying to unwind.

If you have your workspace set up in a part of your living area (e.g. the kitchen bench or the dining room table), go one step further and make it a ritual to pack everything up for the weekend.

Examples of effective in-office company rituals

As for in-office or hybrid teams, here are a few options to kick-start your use of rituals.

1. Catch up over morning stand-ups away from your desks

Consider taking your ‘stand-up’ literally. Going on a walk together as a team or taking your meeting standing around a table, can make everyone feel more refreshed for the day ahead.

While these options have obvious physical benefits, even something as small as changing your surroundings can be revitalising. If it’s a nice day, take your team outside for a catch up, or if it’s raining, the local coffee shop. A change of environment can work wonders for getting the creative juices flowing.

2. Clean those keyboards

Sometimes feelings of sluggishness or low motivation can come from feeling slightly – gross. Office cleaners will clean around your workstation, and maybe even your desk itself, but they’re not going to be cleansing your keyboards.

Setting up your own keyboard cleaning ritual could make all the difference – with microbiologists suggesting that they should get a wipedown at least once a week (they could be dirtier than a toilet seat – eek!).

Disconnect your computer from power and give your keyboard a good cleansing. Try picking up your keyboard and tapping it on its side to dislodge any bits that might be stuck between the keys.

Enjoy the satisfaction of this ritual and enjoy that smug, super clean feeling.

3. Ring a bell!

Those Selling Sunset ladies are really on to something with this one.

Having something big and symbolic located in the business – like a giant bell, a special song, or a special treat – to celebrate team performance can give everyone a lift. It’s another one of those silly little things that can put a smile on everyone’s face, and be so satisfying for the person who’s made a big achievement.

While this shouldn’t replace a reward and recognition program, it can certainly enhance it! A big gesture when someone on your team has a win can help them kick-start their well deserved kudos.

Chrishelle ringing a big bell

Your best company culture yet

Has this article got you thinking about how you can supercharge your company culture in 2022? We can help you take flight!

Our free Workplace Culture Bundle can help you achieve a better culture in as little as 30 days. It includes our Ultimate Culture Guide, a 30-day Culture Calendar and our exclusive Employee Wellness Survey Template and Employee happiness survey template. Download the bundle now. 

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