#28: Workplace Ritual Revival – a Gen Z Primer

For Gen Zers who started new jobs remotely over the past couple of years, the concept of an in-person happy hour may be as foreign as using a rotary dial phone. But as employers nudge people back into the office, there’s something to be said for the revival of the workplace ritual.

Millennials, Gen Xers, and boomers have loads of experience with after-work activities. Before the pandemic, the boss or the office social butterfly would organize happy hours, trivia nights, or—if you were really unlucky—karaoke. The idea was to create relationships with colleagues outside the office that would translate to stronger professional ties.All of that changed when the pandemic hit and work for many people went online, causing the humble (if not totally spontaneous) midday coffee run with your coworker to devolve into a scheduled, 30-minute virtual catch-up. Even when people returned to the office, they found that some of their cherished coworkers had moved out of the cities where they had once worked; others who grew accustomed to the flexibility that working from home afforded them have yet to return. For as much as life has rebounded since the beginning of the pandemic, many Gen Zers (and likely a millennial or two) who work remotely report feeling lonely, making the workplace ritual a newly compelling idea.
The best of these rituals helps define workplace culture. As McKinsey senior partner Bill Schaningerobserves in a recent episode of the McKinsey Talks Talent podcast, “Rituals are what make us us.” When they’re done well (that is, when they are inclusive and meaningful), they can help employees feel a sense of purpose or kinship with their colleagues, both of which can help reduce instances of depression and anxiety, as well as quiet quitting (see our blog #25 January 16).
So how do you convince Gen Z—or anyone who now prefers to work remotely—to engage in these office rituals? For one thing, some of these rituals don’t have to happen in the workplace at all. Sending a weekly email or direct message that focuses on mindfulness or gratitude, for example, can help create the kind of goodwill fostered from in-person get-togethers.

And for those of us who do want to get back to in-person activities, rituals can be centered on milestones like welcoming a new team member, acknowledging a promotion, or holding a send-off for someone leaving the team.

A final word of warning: let “forced fun” be a lesson to anyone reading this—think twice before making these rituals mandatory. Instead, take the pulse of what your team actually wants to do together. If you’re a Gen Zer, feel free to offer your own ideas and even take charge of planning something, making any rituals explicitly optional.

McKinsey Mind the Gap Monday February 6, 2023


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