Want to Be More Productive at Work? Stop Showering!

Superstitious rituals may boost morale, improve performance at work

I plopped down on the couch beside my husband while he was watching the Stanley Cup game between the Blackhawks and Bruins. Five minutes in, I started making the annoying observations that only women who don’t watch sports come up with, like, “Why are hockey players so hairy?”

“They don’t shave when they’re in a winning streak,” he said matter of factly, his eyes never leaving the TV screen.

“Because they might remove a lucky hair or something? Well, you’d think they wouldn’t shower or change their clothes, either, just in case their sweat or shirt has something to do with it, too.”

“Some don’t,” said Ryan.

I was floored. I knew athletes were a superstitious bunch. A glance at any baseball player stepping up to bat clues you into their cleat-kicking, hat-adjusting, glove-tightening rituals. But this just sounded nuts.

Turns out, a WSJ article detailing the latest research on such compulsive behaviors suggests that they help players relax and perform better. Even more fascinating: integrating these practices into our corporate culture could help workers do better on the job, too. Let’s hear it for no-shower Wednesdays!

According to the piece, Harvard Business School researchers found that, of 400 people surveyed, 50 percent engage in repetitive rituals before tackling a task that makes them anxious. Another study made participants perform an invented ritual in which they had to draw on a piece of paper how they were feeling, sprinkle salt on it, count to 10 five times and then crumple up the paper before solving a difficult problem. Those who engaged in the ritual did better on the test than those who didn’t perform the ritual. They also displayed a lower heart rate. Researchers believe that group rituals like not shaving also brings teams closer together. This makes sense to me: like shaving your head in solidarity for a friend going through chemo.

Still, all these wacky behaviors, though they might be soothing, smack of obsessive-compulsive behavior, like excessive hand-washing, or turning on and off the faucet seven times, a la Lena Dunham’s character Hannah Horvath in Girls. Sure, it might make you feel better, but is it really healthy?

I feel like the only compulsive behavior I’d be engaging in were my boss to invite me to hang up a rabbit's foot or grow my armpit hair is excessive eye-rolling -- a ritual that I’m quite sure would do the opposite of encouraging high office morale.

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