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IT JUST FEELS RITE DAILY RITUALS PROVIDE FAMILIAR TOUCHSTONES THAT SOOTHE, AMUSE DURING BUSY WORKDAY.

Byline: Evan Pondel Staff Writer

Gregory Lippe's accounting firm hasn't crunched numbers at the same clip since he put the kibosh on a weekly exercise class for his employees.

Twice a week, his accountants would loosen their neckties and step out of their loafers as a trainer guided them through a series of stretches and low-impact aerobics.

``It was a ritual that worked in terms of clearing peoples' minds and creating a level of camaraderie,'' said Lippe, who canceled the class shortly after a partner expressed worries about liability risks.

Little did Lippe know he was sidelining more than just the prospect of a lawsuit.

In the eyes of Fred Massarik, a University of California, Los Angeles, professor emeritus who specializes in organizational behavior, Lippe was eliminating a daily ritual that all workers, in some way or another, seek out to cope with the unpredictable nature of office life.

Coffee in the same cup every morning. A quick game of computer solitaire in the afternoon. Productive or not, these are among the daily rituals that help people get through their day.

``We are full of repetitive behaviors that give us some sort of consistency. And they are comforting because there is predictability in that you know what you are going to do next,'' said Massarik, noting that ``60 Minutes'' curmudgeon Andy Rooney wears a coat and tie while in transit to work, but he takes the tie off as soon as he arrives at his office.

The rituals range from the commonplace to the downright quirky. Massarik said the time you spend doing it should be your guide as to whether it is reasonable or not.

``If you get into something that takes up too much time, it's probably not a good thing ... such as congregating around the water cooler to figure out who slept with who.''

Snacking at a work station is a different story. Some would argue it's an integral part of their day because it keeps them engaged in their work. Stephanie James, president of Davis & Associates in Long Beach, is fond of Wheat Thins when eating at her desk.

Yet James has another noneating ritual. It's called Freecell, a solitaire computer game that she plays throughout the day.

``I can't believe I'm admitting this. It's definitely not productive, but it's a ritual,'' said James, 57, who indulges in the card game when her stress levels run high.

Others can relate. At Freecell.com, the top of the page reads ``... draining workplace productivity since 1996.'' The Web site even provides a ``spreadsheet look'' to keep track of games and ``avoid those awkward moments when someone walks past your desk and catches a glimpse of your monitor. You look like you're working ...''

But not all rituals are incognito. Natalie Morales, 23, drinks coffee out of the same mug every day, puts her purse in the same drawer when she sits down and washes her hands with sanitizer after she signs off on Fedex and UPS packages. Even the transistor radio on Morales' desk is always tuned to the same station - Jack FM.

``I like listening for Rod Stewart. It reminds me of my grandmother. And if any of these things were out of place, I'd be thrown off,'' said Morales, who works as a receptionist at a law firm in Claremont.

Even though work environments usually foster different rituals, some take shape long before employment.

Juan Gomez-Novy, a senior urban designer at Moule Polyzoides Architects and Urbanists in Pasadena, has been an expert at drawing three-dimensional boxes since high school.

``It helps me zone out a bit,'' said Gomez-Novy, 35, who doodles several dozen boxes a week. He also fills the boxes in with closely spaced diagonal lines, ``and when you hold the paper far away, the box looks like a solid color.''

Aside from self-amusement, there are also some office rituals that foster teamwork. For example, administrators at California State University, Northridge, rely on a toy penguin to inspire communication.

At the end of every staff meeting, a toy penguin is passed along to an administrator with exemplary cooperation skills. ``It's a huge honor,'' said Debra Hammond, a CSUN administrator and executive director of the university student union. ``There was once even a penguin-napper (someone who snatched it). It was missing for quite some time. It caused quite an uproar.''

And while most rituals will not improve a worker's salary, there are several that may bolster someone else's wealth. Earl Feldhorn, a stockbroker at Wedbush Morgan Securities in Los Angeles, wakes up during the week at 3:30 a.m. and watches CNBC. He doesn't read The Wall Street Journal until it's a day old and will not crack Forbes magazine unless the issue has been out for two weeks.

By practicing these rituals, Feldhorn said he avoids making any knee-jerk investments. ``And when I'm dead on ideas, I go to the supermarket and look at what's selling.''

Evan Pondel, (818) 713-3662

evan.pondel(at)dailynews.com

CAPTION(S):

2 photos

Photo:

(1 -- color) Every morning, receptionist Natalie Morales drinks coffee from her favorite mug and listens to her favorite radio station.

Tom Mendoza/Staff Photographer

(2 -- color) Stockbroker Earl Feldhorn reads a 2-week-old Forbes magazine in his Los Angeles office.

Thomas R. Cordova/Staff Photographer
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Title Annotation:Business
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jan 8, 2006
Words:879
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