Traditions Matter: How routines and structure elevate the workplace

In mid-October, our family and close friends gathered for the annual grape harvest at our vineyard. It is a physically demanding, all-day effort, but we delivered a full load of fruit to the talented team at Left Foot Charley by late in the day.

Due to COVID-19 safety precautions, the annual harvest party had to be curtailed and was moved outside in the cold rain – but we completed the annual harvest, as we always do this time of year. Maintaining this important fall ritual provided a very welcome bit of normalcy and reassuring routine in this tumultuous year.

Traditions are vital to keep culture and communities healthy. They represent a critical piece of our family and society. Our yearning for structure and tradition is more important and more threatened amidst the pandemic, with routine and stability currently in short supply. School schedules are upended and religious services are different. Civil public discourse is scarce and democratic traditions are in disarray. As we approach the holidays, we are modifying or canceling events to protect those most at risk. The break from tradition can begin to make us feel untethered from everyday life.

The coming holiday season also calls to mind the importance of traditions in our organizations. The routines and schedules at work build meaningful connections between employees, customers and the organization. They forge bonds and strengthen a company’s identity.

Traditions in the workplace can be as important as those we keep with our family and friends. The regular schedule of team meetings, fundraising galas and holiday events fill a critical need to foster meaningful relationships, renew partnerships and make new connections. These traditions contribute to a sense of belonging, reinforce values and recognize milestones. Traditions matter.

Business and community leaders have an opportunity and a responsibility to lead the return to stability by reinforcing routines and meaningful traditions. Our workspaces may look different – the kitchen counter has replaced the cubicle – and essential workers are shielded behind masks and plexiglass dividers.

But now more than ever before, our teams crave routine and structure. Leaders can focus on the existing traditions that are most important to their employees and embrace new innovative ideas where necessary.

We should strive for continuity to retain valuable customs. While they may seem mundane, the workday’s simple routines provide us with the steadiness we all need. Where possible, we should maintain workplace traditions, perhaps in a modified form or converted to a virtual format, but continue the custom if it is providing value.

At the same time, maintaining tradition can never be an excuse for avoiding needed change. The current environment demands a hard look at existing customs, divesting outdated models and discarding less meaningful traditions.

When it is not possible – or advisable – to keep the pre-pandemic routine, there is considerable value in starting something new. Innovation is a crucial part of any business. Companies can set themselves apart as employers of choice by establishing new traditions that connect their organization’s mission to employee retention (and the survival of the business).

Firms that can innovate through the challenges will also be better positioned to preserve their valued traditions. After all, the best way to ensure continuity of company culture is to keep employees, preserve capital and grow revenue.

New company traditions can add energy to the workplace and elevate morale. Start a special event or program to commemorate employees’ hard work through the pandemic, institute an internal company holiday, offer an annual stipend to pay for home office equipment, or bring employees together for quarterly outdoor walking meetings.

As we confront our changing environment, update protocols and modify the holiday schedule, we can also look for ways to improve these traditions, reinforce them, or replace them with something new. Start fresh if necessary. The old routine may return next year, or perhaps a new, positive and enduring tradition will emerge.

Reinforcing and reinventing company culture can bring a welcome and much-needed sense of stability to our work environment and our community.

Warren Call is the president/CEO of Traverse Connect, a regional economic development organization that includes the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce and Venture North. Contact him at warren.call@traverseconnect.org.

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