Work traditions: Silly or worthwhile?

(MoneyWatch) I was interviewing Kris Wittenberg, owner of SayNoMore! Promotions, about her workday schedule the other day when she mentioned something interesting. She has a white board in the office where each employee marks off that she or he has done "hourlies" -- brief bursts of action designed to get the blood moving. Wittenberg (whose company sells promotional products -- e.g. conference swag) tells me that she read some research about how sitting too long can increase health risks. So in the interest of better health, and because "it's kind of fun and it promotes camaraderie in the office," says Wittenberg -- she's created this ritual where people get up once an hour and do wall sits, plank poses, or jump up and down. Peer pressure ensures that the 8 hours on the white board get filled for everyone who's there.

As I was pondering this, I had two competing thoughts. One is that I'm really glad I'm my own boss, so no one can make me re-live gym class now that I'm a grown-up. But on the other hand, Wittenberg isn't wrong that getting up and moving makes for healthier employees and better concentration. Normalizing and celebrating physical activity is usually a good thing, and in an increasingly homogenized world, there's something to be said for making one's workplace distinctive.

Traditions can do that. If you think back to your childhood, the things you probably remember most fondly were the little offbeat rituals unique to your family. You always had pancakes on Saturday morning. You always walked to worship services together. You had dinner in your pajamas on Friday nights. Such traditions establish a sense of belonging, of being part of something that goes beyond just yourself.

The problem with work traditions is that, well, work is work, and much as we'd like to think of work as family, the rules are different. Mom and Dad can't fire their teenagers when they get sullen about having dinner in their pajamas. I cringe in restaurants where employees are supposed to do something "fun" -- fancy twirling while making the guacamole, singing for birthdays -- and they haven't bought into it. There is nothing more dreary than being sung an alternate tune version of Happy Birthday by someone who clearly does not want to be singing it.

So I think the verdict is mixed. Does your workplace have any traditions? Are they worthwhile or silly?

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