They were convinced that it was the position or the direction of the bull's raging glance that was inauspicious
A survey finds that the Indian corporate workforce still finds sanctity in superstitious beliefs to court success at work
‘Superstition is merely the confusion of correlation and causality,’ argues Marshall Goldsmith in his book, ‘What Got You Here Won’t Get You There’. Be it sportspersons, professionals or ordinary folks, superstition, though irrational and non-sensical, is the preferred choice to make connections and create explanations. The Bombay Stock Exchange offers a few amusing examples of superstition that run amok. In January 2008, when the Sensex plummeted from the highs of the 20,000 mark to 8,000, many edgy brokers and traders at Dalal Street became impulsive and blamed a five-foot-tall shiny bronze statue of a bull, usually a symbol of optimism and strength, just outside Gate 2 for the onslaught of ‘bears’. They were convinced that it was the position or the direction of the bull’s raging glance that was inauspicious. Attaching high priority to these unwarranted beliefs, Vaastu experts were called in, who suggested a change in the bull's direction (South West, facing northwards to be precise - any other position would invite trouble). This action seemed to suggest that for the superstitious money-men, “all will be well if the bull looks at us." This wasn’t the first time though that such beliefs were used to explain market movements: the free fall of Sensex in mid-80’s was reasoned as retribution of a tree which was cut for BSE’s expansion; the 1992 Harshad Mehta scam was linked to the opening of the eastern gate; the same gate was opened once again in 2001 to welcome Bill Clinton and was reasoned to be the cause behind the famous post-dotcom market fall.
But is such superstitious behavior only to be seen amongst traders and brokers? Unfortunately not. We have ample examples of our politicians hopping from one temple to another in response to some political crisis or the other. Leave the political class; there is no dearth of office-going colleagues who have their favorite Ganesha or a Feng Shui plant or Sai Baba or Laughing Buddha ornamenting the office desk. The November 2012 report on “Superstition and Personal beliefs at the Workplace” by TeamLease Services, reveals that overall faith in personal belief or superstition is quite high (62 percent) among employees in India and more than half of respondents (51 percent) follow superstition at their workplace. Add to this, in as much as 81 percent of employees there is a high willingness to follow superstition at the workplace (an equally high belief system seen across the senior management level too!). This is definitely an eye-opener. Further, the level of belief in superstitious practices is found to be higher in Bangalore and Delhi as compared to other cities. This confirms the feeling that Indian cities, despite being modern workplaces, are extremely traditional at heart.
The report states that while Vaastu Shastra and Feng Shui are the most common practices followed at the workplace, the personal favorites are lucky charms like stones, color specific items etc. It further states that leaders of Indian companies are generally adaptive to employees’ superstitious beliefs and don’t restrict them from practicing them at work. The caveat: as long as it doesn’t negatively affect productivity. In fact, a majority of senior management officials believe that superstitious practices are more prevalent at the top of the order.
Does such kind of a belief system have an impact on the corporate culture? A majority of senior managers believe that though practices like Feng Shui, Vaastu Shastra, lucky charms, arrangement of idols and stickers of gods at workstations, laughing Buddha and money plant are common at workplaces, they don’t have any significant influence on people and the corporate culture.
The result of experiments conducted by social psychologist Lysann Damisch et al, on effectiveness of ‘good luck beliefs’ (i.e. superstitious behaviors like crossing fingers, using lucky charms etc) suggest that superstitions are often seen to have improved performance. According to Matthew Hutson, author of ‘The 7 Laws of Magical Thinking: How Irrational Beliefs Keep Us Happy, Healthy, and Sane’, when people feel lucky or follow a superstition, it gives them enough confidence and optimism to boost their performance. The latest TeamLease study, in the Indian context, goes on to say that more than 48 percent of the respondents felt that practicing superstition at the workplace has had a positive effect and modern organizations impose fewer restrictions on such practices.
But how does superstition kick in? Goldsmith explains in his book, ‘What Got You Here Won’t Get You There’, that it is based on the assumption that, "I behave this way, and I achieve results. Therefore, I must be achieving results because I behave this way. This belief is sometimes true but not across the board. That's where superstition kicks in.” Nevertheless, practice whatever you may, but ultimately, the work and outcome are subject to an individual’s skills, knowledge and the application of the same.