Humour at the Workplace
By Marco Sampietro
Publisher: Rupa Publication
Price: Rs 295
Penned down by Marco Sampietro, a professor at the SDA Bocconi School of Management, Italy, Humour at the Workplace presents a well-researched take on the importance of taking it easy in a formal setup.
The book is divided into 15 chapters, each dedicated to a coherent and systematic analysis of humour. By establishing the necessity of a humourous outlook in our social life and convincingly attributing it as an inherent characteristic, Sampietro goes on to elaborate the positive attributes of working in a cohesive and stress-free work climate.
Starting by statistically pointing out the importance of having humour as a key ingredient for both our personal and private space, Sampietro writes that “we spend 115 days of our life laughing on an average. Indians sleep for 528 minutes per night and work for 486 minutes per day. That means we spend 53% of our waking time working…” and so the need of laughter at workplaces, as the author establishes in the book’s introduction.
While the title itself might come across as frivolous to some, the in-depth analysis of the subject matter through “more than 50 examples” underlines the role of humour at a professional setup. By studying humour along with dimensions like stress management, ingratiation, conflict management, negotiation, motivation and creativity among others, the writer emphasises the rudimentary approach humour follows for cognitive and social development of an individual, group and community.
Quoting data from prominent scholars and recognised scientific studies, the book also traces the evolution of humour from its 16th century understanding as “sudden glory” to humour today as a more universal human phenomenon, which only varies in terms of cultural and individual differences.
Dividing the style of humour in four broad categories, affiliative, self-enhancing, aggressive and self-defeating, Sampietro argues that it is only the affiliative — “encouraging interpersonal bonds” and self-enhancing, “coping mechanism to reduce the negative impact of a stressful situation” — humour styles that can be considered positive in the organisational context.
Sampietro, who got a firsthand experience of Indian culture by teaching at a renowned management school in Mumbai, also debunks the myths about Indian humour, as he quotes a scholar saying “humour is becoming freer and more adventurous in India.” Giving both men and women almost equal scores for their humour quotient, the book also intends to break the sexist understanding of the subject in its present context.
In addition to enumerating the positive side of Humour at the Workplace, the author also warns against the dark side of it. Gelotophobia, the fear of being laughed at, Sampietro says, “can create serious disturbances, and hence affects the closeness and intimacy of their social relationship”.
The problem with humour gone wrong is when it starts to feel like laughing at rather than laughing with, thereby victimizing the individual or group at which the joke is directed.
Further linking spontaneous humour and offhand remarks to good leadership, the book claims “positive humour, such as affiliative, can ease interpersonal interactions by reducing power distance between leaders and their subordinates, and in turn support employees’ empowerment”.
Also discussing the complexity of working in an international environment with humour, the author states that it is only the language proficiency for interaction and knowledge of the foreign culture for “what is funny in a given culture may not be funny or may even be offensive in another” that can make communication effective in a multicultural environment.
And though too much laughter can be fatal. As the writer lightheartedly points out, it may lead to cardiac or oesophageal rupture, asthma attacks, jaw dislocation, cataplexy and protrusion of abdominal hernias. The book successfully underlines the necessity of humour for “cognitive development” and “positive physical outcomes”.
In Humour at the Workplace, Sampietro, with an engaging narrative supported by detailed case studies, manages to establish humour as an indispensable part of a healthy work environment and of social life.