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Why we need Rites of Passage at Work

Rites of Passage are a way that a community helps its people transition into the next stage of life. According to Joseph Campbell, when we skip the rites of passage, we may have problems transitioning.

What is a Rite of Passage? A ceremony or event marking an important stage in someone's life, moving from one group to another or changing status.

What rites of passage have disappeared in the workplace? Have we lost anything by phasing out these ceremonies?

New job. Whether as a college hire or a move to a new company, onboarding new people is a key rite of passage. When I started AT&T in 1993, we spent 3 months in a training class. We got to know other people starting and got to know the company. Then we got introduced all around to the group we would be working with. We were given little assignments to learn the ropes. I don’t believe this happens in most companies today. I think it’s on-the-job-training for most. Books like The First 90 Days help people navigate their own passage into a new job.

What I think we have lost here is a shared purpose. Those propaganda videos that get new employees excited about the company, as cheezy as they were, they were a unifying force. People are left to find their own reason to believe in the company, and when their purpose changes, they leave.

Promotion. We used to celebrate a big promotion. And there was some handoff or transition. Now it seems we’re just in it, we’re doing the job. Most people are expected to be able to perform the job before they are promoted into it.

When I think about what’s missing in leadership, I wonder if it has to do with the missing rite of passage. As people move into leadership roles, are they prepared that they must let go of the expertise and focus more broadly on leading. I’ve seen new manager training in many places, and I wonder if this adequately serves as a rite of passage.

Retirement. When you work with the same people for 30 or 40 years, a big retirement party is inevitable. With today’s workplace, most retirees have only worked with their current team or company for a short time. Those teams or company don’t have the history with the retiree that old companies had. The rite of passage into retirement is incumbent upon the retiree. One friend told me she needed to get “mentally ready” for retirement.

What rites of passage are missing in your workplace? Let us know!

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