Is it OK to exhibit your superstitions in the workplace?

In sports, it’s not unusual to hear about star players carrying lucky charms or wearing the same whiffy jersey game after game after game for fear of breaking their winning streak. In the theater world, it’s considered bad luck to wish someone good luck before a performance, so instead, you tell them to “break a leg.” But superstition isn’t just limited to the proverbial playing fields. Former President Barack Obama reportedly carries around an ever-evolving mix of good luck charms given to him by others including a rosary from Pope Francis.

In the workplace though, things aren’t black and white with many of us obsessively wearing lucky socks before a meeting or using only a certain color ink on major reports. So, is it okay to have a gold wishbone hanging above your desk and a tiny medicine bag near you at all times? (asking for a friend). According to an expert on superstitions, it really depends on just how heavily you rely on them.

Is it good luck or bad luck?

Inspired by an undergrad student, Donald A. Saucier, Ph.D. a Professor and University Distinguished Teaching Scholar at Kansas State University Department of Psychological Sciences decided to delve deeper into the individual differences in superstitious beliefs. Dr. Saucier explained a notion he refers to as the “locus of control” which is “the extent to which you think you can control your environment and outcomes.”

Don’t blame your bad luck on externals

Dr. Saucier explained that some people believe exclusively in luck “I believe I’m going to carry a rabbit’s food and good things are going to happen,” or the flip side “a belief in bad luck- it’s Friday the 13th or I’m breaking a mirror, therefore bad things will happen.” Some people carry this through to the workplace and have a hard time expecting to produce their best work on a bad luck day or blame their own shoddy work on Mars being in retrograde.

Do you lack the confidence to do it on your own?

For some, there’s an internal locus of control in which they believe “It’s all me.” The external locus of control, on the other hand, is the polar opposite “life happens to me. It’s predestined.” These individual beliefs can lead to different behavior and can also explain why some people seem oblivious to external circumstances, while others consider everything to be a sign or even opportunity. Ultimately, it also can mean that someone might simply lack confidence in their own abilities and too heavily depend on somewhat unrealistic or superstitious aid.

Is it ever okay to use your four-leaf clover?

If as Dr. Saucier explains, “A superstition is believing something has an influence when it doesn’t.” So, is it ever acceptable to use your own good luck charm in an office environment? “Wearing your lucky shirt doesn’t change your grade or make your report any better unless it gives you self-confidence or self-efficacy (your belief that you can do something),” explains Dr. Saucier. “Then it’s great.”

The flip side though is when “people use superstitions in place of them doing something to try to succeed.” Ideally, you do both. You prepare for your meeting or speech and as an added boost of confidence, you wear your favorite color or lucky tie. “Some people use the superstition to give them a confidence boost,” explains Dr. Saucier. “They don’t actually think they can increase their level of success, and they’re not necessarily conscious they’re doing so. It’s just naturally comforting to do it.” And using these as tools or confidence boosters can then help you to become less scared or anxious. Almost like a professional security blanket or touchstone.

Use it as a cue

Dr. Saucier explains that he used to have a lucky song he listened to before teaching. It wasn’t the song that made his lectures go well, it was the hours of work and preparation that came beforehand. The song was just an added boost or reminder that he’d done well in the past and would again in the future. “As long as I was prepared. It was fine.”

Use it as a positive

No matter how weird it might seem to others, using lucky charms or superstitions when they’re benign is fine and even fun. The problems arise “when people start to overthink them or expect the superstition to do too much,” according to Dr. Saucier. “If people want to wear their lucky shirt, that’s just fine. It’s when superstition takes the place of better behavior that I have an issue.”