Today is Pancake Day in the UK (also known as Shrove Tuesday). I looked up the reasons for the name and discovered "Shrove Tuesday is a day of celebration as well as penitence, because it's the last day before Lent (a Christian Festival hallmarked, in the past, by a long, strict, religious fast). Throughout the United Kingdom, and in other countries too, people indulge themselves on foods that traditionally aren't allowed during Lent. Pancakes are eaten on this day because they contain fat, butter and eggs which were forbidden during Lent."
This started me thinking about other organizational rituals, and their significance for employees. I remember years ago working for Prudential the insurance company in the UK. (Different from the US Prudential). At the time I worked for it the head office was in Holborn Bars in central London. I remember a certain annual ritual when staff would go and gather round a statue in the courtyard and sing what I thought was the company song. However, when I emailed the Prudential archivist to find out more on this (I was writing something else about rituals) I got a delightful reply – that, although it didn't quite square with my memory, is probably correct.
"Each year in March when the previous year's annual results were announced is that all the Field Staff (District Managers and above from all the Divisions)had an annual visit to Holborn Bars which culminated in an Annual Dinner held at the Grosvenor Hotel which all the Directors,Management and Chief Office Staff of Principal Clerk and above also attended.
Because the Field Staff were not normally present in Holborn Bars in November when the Armistice Day two minutes silence and wreath laying ceremony took place, we think it possible/probable that a similar ceremony took place during the morning of the Annual Dinner to respect the memory of members of the Field Staff who lost their lives in the two World Wars. If so this would most likely have involved the laying of a wreath and, in the absence of a religious service as such, the singing of the National Anthem."
Then earlier this week I was writing about the Grameen Bank. It has initiated a ritual because, as explained:
"The bank needs its members (or borrowers) to feel accountable enough to repay their loans, and empowered enough to take advantage of the loans they receive. In order to achieve this, Grameen requires members to form groups and relies on the social pressure of the group to promote accountability and fiscal discipline. Members agree to a set of "16 Decisions" related to discipline and self-empowerment, which along with the Grameen credo-"Discipline, unity, courage, and hard work in all walks of our lives"-are repeated at the beginning and end of each group meeting."
The ritual repetition of the credo and decisions at group meetings reminded me that other companies do similar things to encourage group cohesion, a feeling of connectedness, loyalty to the organization and so on. (The darker side to this coin are rituals of hazing or initiation that herald the right of membership to an organization.)
Mulling over my other experiences of this type ritual I recall my girls' grammar school annual traditions of 'Speech Day' and 'School Birthday' on both of which the school song was sung. This sent me scurrying off – not to a website this time, but to an ancient book – to see if I still had the words to the song. Answer? No, but I do recall that one of the lines is "Let Sapere Aude ever ring in our ears". (Dare to be wise).