Opinion

Humour is good at the workplace

Saundarya Rajesh | Updated on March 07, 2018 Published on March 07, 2018

The funny bone tickles Across the board   -  C V SUBRAHMANYAM

And women can use it more often to get things done, and pull the the team together

Do you know what are the two most important qualities of a leader as defined by the Bell Leadership Institute? A strong work ethic and a good sense of humour. After 17 years of trying to figure out why women’s workforce participation in India is dipping, why India has so few women CEOs, why 48 per cent of all Indian women under the age of 30 drop off the radar, I think I cracked the code. It is sense of humour. Rather, the lack of it.

A sense of humour is seriously lacking in the Indian workplace. I went to an all-girls school, so obviously, our class clown, Josey, was a girl. It followed that ours was one of those rare classrooms in the uber-serious convent institution that echoed with the sound of girls laughing uproariously. Our teachers, stern Sisters of the Order, would warn us, but in the end, they did not stand a chance. Even Mother Superior would drop her guard, her harsh expression crumbling into helpless laughter as she joined us in our tomfoolery.

In retrospect, it was a defining moment. Humour can be a great bridge-builder, a connector of people. And women are naturally predisposed towards relationships and creating links. Ergo, it should be logical that women use humour more often for getting things done in the workplace.

Defining insight

Ladies, it is International Women’s Day and I think we should undertake a resolution to lighten things up. We can do three things to help establish humour as the glue that brings people together.

(1) Create opportunities to laugh with colleagues; of course, never at them. This is a valuable asset in the workplace. I used to have a co-worker whose “punch dialogues” would put Rajinikanth to shame. Single-handed, she would ensure that the stress of the day was instantly dissolved. Humour is a great ‘human’ quality. When you look forward to a few bouts of laughter, a few funny moments, you are bound to be more engaged. The mandatory word of caution — jokes can never be at the expense of others. When you define what constitutes humour in the workplace, you are defining an inclusive culture.

(2) Everything is an opportunity to laugh, but appropriately. Confession. I am an inveterate giggler who comes from a long line of laughers. My mother has found jolliness in many unlikely set-ups while my grandmother is famous for her one-liners. I grew up in a joint family and such environments provide ample fodder for hilarious outbursts. My younger sister was my partner-in-crime, whispering something into my ear at that really serious family discussion Father would be addressing, causing me to clamp my mouth shut, desperately smothering high-pitched sounds as I collapsed into fits of laughter. Retribution would be prompt. Today, even during serious meetings, I am sometimes known to stifle a chortle. While I am proud of my better sense of control these days, I also make it a point to write down something funny so that I remember to share it with other funny people.

(3) Ladies, take your work seriously, but not yourselves. Many leaders I admire have a fabulous sense of humour and take themselves lightly. At a recent leadership dinner that IBM’s global MD Ginni Rometty hosted in Mumbai, I was struck by her spontaneous sense of humour during an interesting parry with our very own Chanda Kochhar. Employees sense the mood of the leader. When the woman role model encourages humour, it shows that women’s advancement is not all work and no play. Her ability to find something to laugh about is a demonstration of her confidence.

A couple of days back, returning from the airport, I found several posters welcoming Renuka Chowdhury to Chennai to address a conference on the occasion of International Women’s Day. Renuka Chowdhury is suddenly in the spotlight — all thanks to a guffaw. That’s proof that a good belly laugh can revive your career, get you the limelight and create opportunities.

In summary, I think we are approaching it all a little too seriously. After all, the business case for why gender diversity is important has been proven loud and clear. India’s top employers of women, featured on the Working Mother & AVTAR Best Companies study, are doing everything in their power to make the workplace more attractive for women. So, it would be great if we brought back a sense of humour to the workplace. Change that stereotype of women being worrywarts or agony aunts, to one of being a chuckler. How much cooler is that!

The writer is Founder-President, AVATAR Group

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Published on March 07, 2018
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