Humour at work

A good sense of humour is the least expensive of all medicines to beat stressful moments in our lives. Try to remember a tense situation when someone passed a witty comment or cracked a good joke and made everyone laugh. How did it feel? As if, the whole tension evaporated in thin air…

Agreed, that a sense of humour may not be suitable for every situation but there are quite a few that can be ‘punctuated’ with a good sense of humour. It is just that most of us do not know how to do it.

The other day we were working late at night on a report. All of us were tired and worried that we were to get back early next morning. In this situation, we hardly appreciated the mobile call our colleague attended from home, obviously his wife on the other end. ‘Who was that?’ someone asked. My colleague smiled and said it was ‘Pakistan International Airlines’. ‘What? You taking a flight?’, we teased him. ‘No’, he said, ‘It remains for a PIA Air hostess to tell you to find a dinner elsewhere this late’. The next moment we remember, we were all laughing and kept on enjoying the joke many days after. We probably did not finish the work any sooner that night, but the comment took the pain out of accepting our situation. We were all reinvigorated.

Let us now pay compliment to the people whose company we enjoy most. I think a typical profile includes the people who do not intimidate us, who we are comfortable being, and possibly people who make us feel good with their knowledge, conversation, witty remarks, jokes, poems, quotations – in short, their sense of humour. How about being someone like that?

Our workplaces unfortunately happen to be very stressful, unnecessarily. Sometimes I have a feeling that it is by design. The thinking is that if people start cracking jokes they would not take the work seriously. On the other hand, I believe that it is possible NOT to work seriously, even without laughing.

The problem lies in the way we are brought up. At school, we were kept under pressure all the time that if we do not study seriously we will not be promoted to the next class. In higher classes, we were told that we would not get admission in college. At college, we are told that University will not accept us with lower grades. Doing well at University becames important to get our ‘dream’ job. With a job, we worry that if we do not work hard, we will never achieve a responsible position. What kind of social intimidation is this and why do we have to buy it? Why have a high-stress day today for a stress-free tomorrow, which never arrives? Why are we made to sacrifice our days like this? Why can’t we be taught to live 'a' moment now before almost dying for the coming one?

The result of our present approach is that our workplaces are infested with sadists and ‘office politicians’ with loop-sided view of life, which looks like a mettle being passed on from one generation to the next. They only have pain to pass to others, not laughs. These negative thinkers would not value much the sense of joy that comes by appreciating an honest and faithful effort of a sub-ordinate. They rather take a secret pleasure out of pain of others. This kind of attitude keeps us, personally and collectively, from achieving.

On the other hand, enjoying your moments with a good sense of humour may be termed as a ‘short-term’ or 'non-serious' remedy to our ails but that is not the issue. The issue is at no stage in our lives we are taught to develop a sense of humour and ‘to develop it to the extent of improving our outlook and hence productivity’.

What can we do to change the status quo? As an employer, how about arranging corporate gatherings to nurture a good repotoire among staff. How about having an easy-going party to help your colleagues to enjoy and laugh atleast one day in a year. That is a safe activity. Believe me, I have not heard of anybody dying of laughing! Secondly, how about arranging some training to improve our sense of humour systematically. It can be done. Our management learning centres can also help by interjecting healthy measures of humour in their courses. Thirdly, our employers can learn to cultivate a good sense of humour in the workforce in day to day engagements without sacrificing the productivity.

At our own individual level, how about planning a day in our life where we simply do only those things that we make us 'feel-good' and perhaps amused, whether that is reading children's jokes, watching a comedy show or watching how funny we look when we are serious or better, making faces in the mirror. Let us commit to ourselves that we will not be a ‘source’ of pain for ourselves and for others… and remember that too.

Thirty years ago, there were probably few who thought that a sense of humour at workplace is important at all for executive health and corporate wealth. Thirty years from now, even more people will find it unusual that in 2003 consulting psychologists were considered embarassing for the imporovement of workplace environment. Then, we will know more about the sense of humour and its connection with mental health, just like what we know today about walking and physical health.

Altaf Noor Ali is the managing consultant at Career Consulting Clinic. He can be contacted at emirates@super.net.pk.

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