Table of Contents
Table of Contents
Take care of your people and protect your business
What are Workplace Traditions?
Workplace traditions are defined as the beliefs and customs that are commonplace in an organization and represent a culture. They exist in the form of shared information, social attitudes, behaviors, norms, practices, rituals, and rites of passage. Traditions represent abstract pieces of culture and emphasize commitment to the organizations they represent. Some traditions are institutionalized by the organization while others are started by individuals and catch on for the whole organization. No matter where they come from, workplace traditions are incredibly important to organizational culture and employee morale.
Why are Workplace Traditions Important?
There are several reasons why workplace traditions are important to an organization. To name a few, workplace traditions help us understand workplace culture, strengthen shared social identity within a company and improve retention.
- Understand workplace culture. We can tell a lot about a company by the nature of its traditions. Traditions can serve as a diagnostic tool for understanding workplace culture. From organizations that host regular events that encourage competition between employees, we can identify a culture of competitiveness. Through organizations that spotlight employees for their performance, we see a culture of recognition. From organizations that allow casual Fridays, we observe a culture of comfort and friendliness. As a few examples, Twitter hosts some meetings on a rooftop garden, which speaks to their dedication to a creative culture, Hireology hosts biannual in-person gatherings so main office and remote employees can bond, which highlights their culture of unity, and Zoom brings teams together to celebrate small milestones, which speaks to their culture of growth. By first understanding what traditions say about culture, we can come to determine which traditions are most beneficial to the organization. Additionally, traditions serve as visible components of a company’s culture that are perceptible both to internal employees and external stakeholders. For this reason, it is important to ask what your traditions say about your organization.
- Strengthen shared social identities. Traditions reinforce a sense of belonging for employees who participate in them. When employees are included in traditions, they are shown that they matter to the group and are embraced in the shared social identity. This concept is sometimes referred to as “we-ness,” which is defined as how individuals identify as part of or align themselves with a group. Traditions can shape this identity. For example, rites of passage or forms of initiation help new members feel that they truly belong. For example, Ikea encourages employees to hug each other in social interactions to form stronger bonds. As shared social identity is an expression of workplace culture, traditions that strengthen that identity are vital to bonding employees together.
- Improve retention. When employers create a more inclusive environment with workplace traditions, they strengthen retention. Employees feel personally valued and accepted in an organization where they are included. An excellent example of this is the One-Hour Experiment. In this experiment, researchers grouped several hundred new hires from WIPRO into three groups. There was a control group, a group that received the usual training and an additional hour devoted to discussing the company identity, and a group that received the usual training and an additional hour committed to getting to know the employees individually. In the second group, the new hires were given a sweatshirt with the company logo on it, and in the third, a sweatshirt with both the company logo and their names. Over time, researchers recognized that retention in the third group was 250% higher and the second group was 157% higher than the control group. This example of an activity meant to create inclusivity could be turned into a standard tradition for training and increase retention again and again.
Examples of Workplace Traditions
Not all traditions are created or set in place by an organization. Some grow naturally from employee interactions. For example, maybe one year an employee pulls a prank on the boss on their birthday and the action turns into a yearly tradition where employees plan elaborate pranks for their bosses on their birthdays. Other traditions are started by leaders for a specific purpose. Of the many different workplace traditions, there are a few that are common to many different organizations.
Two examples of rituals in the workplace are rites of passage and meetings. Rites of passage are defined as events that mark a milestone of some sort. They could include initiations, anniversaries, accomplishing a task (i.e., first sale or presentation), or even getting yelled at for the first time by the coworker who dislikes everyone.
For example, at Amazon, new hires go through a long initiation process to become “Amazonians.” Different rites of passage exhibit different attributes of the organization’s culture. Initiation pranks may show that the company values fun while celebrations for a new hire’s first sale shows that the organization values productivity.
Meetings are a form of workplace tradition that are often not identified as a tradition. However, meetings allow for a manifestation of company hierarchy in two forms. First, certain individuals are included in meetings while others are not, highlighting some form of power that allows them to be involved. Second, individuals who speak at or lead meetings are considered to be in a higher position by technical authority or status of relationships within the group.
When determining who has the power in a meeting, consider who is speaking the most/least, who everyone looks to when an opinion is presented, who called the meeting, and who is and is not present. Meetings are formal workplace traditions that are typically institutionalized by the organization.
Not all workplace practices are traditions but there are quite a few that occur regularly and directly correlate to culture. Spirit weeks are a strong example of this. As a tradition, spirit weeks encourage employees to let their guard down and connect with coworkers. Some spirit weeks have a goofy element (dress up like a superhero day or 80’s day) while others have a formal element (everyone wears blue or uses the company logo as their zoom background during a virtual meeting).
Another common workplace tradition includes regularly scheduled bonding time such as office lunches or team-building activities. These types of traditions allow employees to get to know their leaders and coworkers better. Additional workplace traditions include award ceremonies, publications, and community outreach programs.
When companies observe anniversaries, holidays, and other special occasions, they create opportunities for the development of shared social identities. Celebrations are clear indicators of what’s important to the organization and each celebration focuses on different components of social interaction.
For example, the Fourth of July focuses on patriotism, workplace anniversaries focus on time commitment to the organization and reward employees for their loyalty, and New Year celebrations focus on new beginnings, fresh starts, and goals. Southwest fosters a strong culture of unity through its celebrations including chili cookoffs. Additionally, religious and cultural holiday celebrations highlight employee differences as well as unite people.
One common, less recognized tradition is workplace behaviors. Accepted behaviors that are commonplace become ingrained in the culture and serve as a representation of the organization. These are typically referred to as norms, which are the dos and don’ts in an organization.
Norms determine what’s allowed and who has the social capital to break those norms. There are two types of norms: high-intensity and low-intensity. Behaviors that directly break high-intensity norms are severely punished while behaviors that violate low-intensity norms are more easily forgiven.
How To Create Your Own Company Traditions
New traditions can be exciting and fun. They bring new energy, hope, and connection between people. On the other hand, they have the potential to be tedious and disorienting. If traditions are not received well by employees or are not communicated well, they can cause unnecessary frustration and confusion. Therefore, great care should be taken in determining what traditions should be implemented and how.
Step 1: Discovery
The first question to ask when creating new company traditions is what does the organization need? If productivity is low, do we need to start creating competitions? If communication is poor, do we need to start inviting more employees to meetings or having regular open forums? Is morale low? Do we need to create team-building activities or spirit weeks? What traditions are already in place and what impact do they currently have? What traditions have failed to take off in the past?
The second step in discovery is to consider the implications of new traditions. It is important to determine if a new tradition will be received well by employees. For example, if you create new competitions, will the current culture respond well? If you create spirit weeks, would employees actively participate? What will the traditions say about the company? How could the culture change?
Step 2: Creation
Traditions can be uniquely crafted for a specific purpose or serve multiple purposes. As a few examples, Verizon has instilled the practice of encouraging employees to volunteer by donating to organizations where employees volunteer which fosters a culture of the community; Reonomy gives regular “shout-outs” to employees during meetings which instill a culture of recognition; ServiceNow has created initiation traditions in the form of karaoke or bowling which strengthens a culture of inclusivity, and Google hosts parties and open speeches which foster a culture of unity and fun. No matter the reason, a critical step in creating company traditions is to build a guiding coalition. A guiding coalition is defined as a group of individuals who help lead some form of change. To help new traditions take hold within the organization, role models or members of the guiding coalition can engage with and encourage others to participate. Some traditions will succeed without a guiding coalition, however, employees are much more receptive to something new if they have someone to follow.
Step 3: Consistency
In the ever-changing world of business, one thing that brings people comfort is consistency. New traditions will likely fade away without consistency in some form. Each tradition should occur regularly, but not necessarily frequently as this depends on the type and purpose of the tradition. Another important component of consistency is the incorporation of a feedback loop. A feedback loop is defined as a mechanism that allows for input and auditing of a system and then output opportunities for improvement. This type of loop helps us understand if traditions are producing the desired results. If not, what changes need to be made?
Questions You’ve Asked Us About Workplace Traditions
Rae has acquired HR experience in team leadership, research, training, recruiting, project management, and mentoring upcoming HR professionals. She is fascinated by workplace culture and the many implications it has on the world of business, especially HR. When possible, she seeks out opportunities to expand her knowledge and give back to her community.