How To Create Powerful Workplace Rituals

A group of people sitting on the floor in a circle.

Rituals can make your workplace more human, further employee engagement, foster a sense of belonging, and help workers connect with one another and their work. Erica Keswin, a workplace strategist and author of Rituals Roadmap: The Human Way to Transform Everyday Routines into Workplace Magic, has spent years researching rituals and helping companies connect their teams and create a more human-centered workplace.

Here are five takeaways on rituals from our conversation with Erica on the Creative Confidence Podcast. Listen to the full episode to hear her talk about the business case for rituals and examples from her extensive research, the key elements behind a ritual, and techniques and tips on how to design rituals in your own workplace.

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1. A ritual is something that is assigned meaning and intention, done at a regular cadence, and goes beyond its practical purpose.

“With the increased blending of work and home, rituals have become even more important.” — Erica Keswin

Erica defines a ritual as having three parts. First, it has a certain amount of meaning and intention behind it. Second, it has a regular cadence, whether it’s done every morning or once a week. Third, it typically goes beyond its practical purpose. For example, if you light a candle every day at six to signify the transition from work time to home time, you’re using the candle in a way beyond its regular use as a light source.

To show how powerful rituals can be, Erica describes a study on team performance done by Kevin Kniffin at Cornell University. Kevin was interested in learning about what makes some teams perform better than others, and because his dad was a firefighter, he decided to study their team dynamics. He found that firefighters who were the most dedicated to the ritual of sitting around the table and bonding over a firehouse meal tended to have higher levels of performance and more saved lives.

 

2. Rituals give us the 3 P’s: psychological safety, purpose, and performance.

“Rituals can ground us. To each other, to our families, to our teams, and even to ourselves.” — Erica Keswin

When thinking about the benefits and business case for rituals, Erica says there are 3 P’s in the rituals equation. There’s psychological safety, which is a sense of belonging and coming together. Then there’s purpose, the opportunity to connect to our values. Finally, there’s performance, which starts to increase once you have psychological safety and purpose.

In her research on the impact of rituals on our health and wellness, Erica has found that when we feel connected to others or even ourselves in our work and personal lives, the feel-good hormone oxytocin goes up and stress hormone cortisol goes down. And when we feel a sense of belonging and trust with a team, collaboration and productivity rise.

 

3. Focus on beginnings and endings as opportunities for the most impactful rituals.

“Beginnings and endings are prime ritual real estate.” — Erica Keswin

There are many moments when you can design rituals: during recruiting and onboarding, meetings, meals, professional development, turbulent times, and celebratory milestones. Beginnings and endings, however, are especially magical times when it comes to rituals. These are moments when people might be experiencing more ambiguity, and rituals can be a grounding force.

For example, the onboarding process of a new job is a great time to connect people with the values and essence of the company. One example of what she’s seen companies do is having the entire team of people who interviewed a candidate join the call when offering the job, and having everyone share why they think the person would be a great fit for the organization. Rituals like this can create a sense of belonging from day one.

 

4. Ask yourself when you feel most aligned with your company.

“When do you feel most [company]-ish?” — Erica Keswin

Sometimes, it can be difficult to figure out what counts as a ritual in your company. Erica suggests asking what she calls the magic question: “When do you feel most [company]-ish?” (insert the name of your company). When Erica asks this question to people, she sees a lightbulb go off in their heads as they reflect on the different aspects of the employee experience that stand out to them. Looking at the moments that feel most in line with your company culture will help you identify existing rituals as well as new opportunities for your company.

 

5. Get feedback on your ritual and be willing to adapt.

“Be willing to be flexible, see what sticks and get feedback.” — Erica Keswin

To create your own ritual, start by asking yourself the magic question of when you feel most aligned with your company. Reflect on your purpose for trying to create a new ritual, and pick specific values that you want to highlight. Then, think about the buckets of the employee experience, from onboarding to meetings.

Don’t be afraid to try things out. If you start a ritual and it doesn’t have the stickiness, get feedback, see what’s working, and continue to iterate. You can’t force a ritual—there has to be authenticity. According to Erica, rituals are more of a pull than a push.

 

About The Speaker

Erica Keswin
Author & Workplace Strategist

Erica is a workplace strategist who has worked for the past twenty years with some of the most iconic brands in the world as a consultant, speaker, author, and professional dot-connector. She is a trusted guide for companies around the world looking for ways to connect their teams, increase engagement, and create a human workplace. She is the author of two bestselling books, Bring Your Human to Work: Ten Sure-Fire Ways to Design a Workplace That’s Good for People, Great for Business, and Just Might Change the World (2018) and Rituals Roadmap: The Human Way to Transform Everyday Routines Into Workplace Magic (2021).


Learn how to go deeper on creating rituals that work for your team in our course Leading for Creativity.



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