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It’s about time – Say yes to nostalgia

Who doesn’t love a blast from the past? A family photo, the feeling you get when you hear ‘your’ song or even a smell that reminds you of way back. But Sarah Woods explains why there’s more to nostalgia than getting sentimental about your Fisher-Price roller skates…

Nostalgia is about more than just remembering something that happened a long time ago in a galaxy far far away…

It is a social emotion. It is about the feeling it evokes and the effect that it has on you and those you share the memory with.

Take this photo below of me with my youngest siblings. It has all the classic hallmarks of a proper 80s childhood:

Sarah, John and Helen_640x480

1. Floral nightie – check
2. Unashamed nudity – check
3. Brown soft furnishings – check
4. Slightly dodgy fringe – check
5. Grazed knees – check (cropped out. See point 2)

Labyrinth was probably playing on the VCR… For me, it’s pure nostalgia.

Seeing this photo brings back happy memories and it strengthens the feelings I have for my siblings. I haven’t had to call them or interact with them, but by simply accessing this memory I feel happy and connected, and that’s despite being dressed in that floral monstrosity.

So, what does this have to do with internal comms?

For a long time nostalgia was thought of as a neurological disease and a mental disorder. Back in 1688 it was first used to describe sickness in soldiers away from home, coming from the Greek words nostos (return) and algos (pain) – or to put it more simply, the pain that comes with wanting to return to your origins.

It is only relatively recently that research has shifted opinion and presented it as something positive. And where it becomes interesting to internal communicators is in the area of collective nostalgia, which differs from the personal nostalgia I experience when looking at my photo.

Researchers from the University of Southampton have shown that people who experience a collective nostalgia – a shared nostalgic emotion – show an increase in creativity[1], optimism, social connectedness[2]and altruism[3]. Qualities that are highly valued and beneficial to employers. In other words, feeling nostalgic with your colleagues is good for your business.

But nostalgia isn’t something you ‘do’. It happens naturally as a result of shared memories. Very few people are likely to feel a longing to be back in a meeting or a fondness for a report they once wrote. But collective nostalgia at work is possible and can bring huge benefits to your organisation.

Recently, we’ve been helping several clients to write their corporate narrative or tell the story of the business – past, present and future. One benefit of this approach is to give people a sense of shared experience that helps to bind them to the organisation.

But sometimes nostalgia happens when you’re not looking. Many companies have cut their Christmas party to save money. But as Dr Constantine Sedikides explains: “the Christmas party is among the most powerful engines of nostalgia – the shared positive memories of what we did at the Christmas party can sustain morale for a long time. Organisations are incredibly short-sighted to think about cutting them over costs.”

Research into nostalgia is still in its infancy, but findings suggest that further work, especially around collective nostalgia within an organisation, will provide valuable insight for internal communicators.

Our Christmas party is still months away so, until then, I’ll grab a packet of Opal Fruits (nope, still not forgiven the name change) and make some new memories.


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