The Role of Laughter in the Office

Gatherings of friends and family are punctuated by bouts of laughter and good-natured humour. The sounds of everyone having a hearty laugh light up dull days and gloomy evenings. But when it comes to laughter in the office, people tend to be a little prudish. We have written about the do’s and don’ts about humour in detail in one of our earlier articles. That was all about humour. Here, we are talking about laughter.

As we have mentioned in the article, a professional space has a much stricter code of conduct and a sense of decorum. Instances of humour might be around the office all the time but laughter, or loud laughter is something that is not heard very often. The tone of our voices remains hushed, and we try to keep a straight face for every interaction. In fact, expressing any range of emotions, forget laughing out loud is something that is often frowned upon. An article by Harvard Business Review charts out the experience of an executive. The executive was at a restaurant with his boss and a few investors. The boss might have said something funny and the executive let out a hearty laugh. To his surprise, everyone around him was taken aback by the laughter. Later when he asked his boss if the laughter had ‘embarrassed’ him, the response was: ‘It was pretty loud.’

Is there no space for a good hearty laugh in the office environment? A good hearty laugh is rare, and something that is rare shouldn’t cause embarrassments and problems, right? Why do we hesitate to laugh out loud in the office? Is it something we should keep in check, like our negative or overwhelming emotions?

Let us delve deeper and look at the angles this has.

Relieving the Tension, Boosting Productivity:

Simply put, the act of laughing out loud not only improves the atmosphere (even momentarily) but also induces various physical and psychological responses in the body. When we laugh, we increase our oxygen intake, release endorphin (the feel-good hormone), stimulate circulation and reduce the physical symptoms of stress. In other words, when we laugh, we take the focus away from the stress, and bring the focus to the present.

When the focus is on the present, it is naturally going to lead to an increase in engagement and productivity, spurring collaboration and creativity, boosting mental clarity and focus. An occasional laughing out loud not only relieves the tension at an individual level but also at a collective level. Where laughter is not frowned upon, there is a safe space to express ideas and drive them forward. This brings us to the next point.

The Humane Touch:

We often make assumptions and mistakes. What we thought was the perfect strategy might turn out to be not so perfect after all. In such situations, laughing at our own selves is sometimes the best solution to soften the blow. This could work especially well for leaders and people in upper -management positions. Laughing at one’s momentary incompetence and lapse of judgment humanises us. It lets the other team members and colleagues know that we are all humans at the end of the day, and prone to making mistakes. Laughing out loud about it can thus ease the tension and make the space feel safer as mentioned above. Laughing out loud is like laughing at the problem and telling it that no matter what, we shall not get bogged down.

But beware!

While laughter in the office space is not something to be frowned upon, and happy employees do the work happily, one should make sure that this happiness is shared by all. In other words, there are times when it is appropriate to laugh. But there are times when laughing out loud might reduce the confidence of a person, or it may make them feel disrespected or it might be just too crude a thing to laugh about. Context matters, as we pointed out in our earlier article as well. The point is to make a safe-space with laughter; the point is to laugh with someone, not at someone.

Laughing out loud in the workplace is a great tool to boost the three Cs: camaraderie, collaboration and creativity. It is a tool that can encourage a free flow of ideas. And simply, it can be a tool to relieve tension at an individual and collective level, humanising us all, and realising that no problem is insurmountable.

How to Onboard Yourself at a New Job

onboarding yourself

The pandemic has given rise to occasions where one often finds oneself shuffling between work-from-home and being in office. Such ‘hybrid’ working conditions have given rise to many challenges, one of them being the onboarding process. New recruits might often find themselves on their own to a great extent when it comes to getting oneself familiarised with their new job and the expectations, roles that come with it. Remotely hired recruits might often find themselves feeling unfamiliar with the day-to-day company culture. Essentially, new recruits will end up onboarding themselves.

The Normal Situation:

According to a Unito blogpost, onboarding, generally, is a fairly long-term process which involves the new recruit being familiarised on an organisational, technical and social level. At an organisational level, the new employee gets to know how things work, the company culture, mission and processes. At a technical level, job expectations, goals, definitions of success are explained. At a social level, the employee undergoes a process of getting to know the company community, forge interpersonal connections and building trust.

Unlike an orientation, which is of a very short time-frame, usually a few hours or days, the onboarding process may go on for around a year, and it could start as early as the final interview.

It is true that even in the pre-pandemic situation, the responsibility to assimilate with their new workplace would be as much on the new recruit as much as the company. But now more than ever, one could find oneself bearing the greater share of this responsibility.

Fortunately, there are some tips which can go a long way if you find yourself in a situation where you have to do the onboarding yourself, entirely or to a great extent.

Some organisations don’t have a full-fledged, formally chalked out onboarding process. So, whether you are working remotely or not, it is always a good idea to have some tips handy in order to make the best of the new workplace and assimilate yourself in the new company to optimise your potential.

Onboarding on Your Own:

Drawing on from the three major aspects of onboarding mentioned earlier, there are also three major frameworks of technical, cultural and political learning you can keep in mind when it comes to beginning to onboard yourself at your new company as mentioned in this Blueprintgreen blogpost.

The key lies in knowing which questions to seek answers for. You may ask these questions when their need to be answered arrives to the relevant person, or you may keep this as a mental checklist of sorts, to make sure you are making an effort to ‘get to know’ the company.

  • The Basic Expectations: Gain insight into the fundamentals of the organisation like the clients, audience, technologies used and the everyday functions. Aim at getting an answer to questions like: Who all do I report to for various projects? How am I expected to divide my time? What systems and programs do I need access to do my work, do I have the access and knowledge for it, and who do I consult if I want to know more? What targets am I working toward and how do I know if I am doing a good job, whom should I ask? These include the technical learning aspect.

These might look like basic questions, but any kind of learning begins with asking the right questions at this basic level, and isn’t onboarding essentially a step toward learning more about your new company?

  • The Culture: Each organisation has a certain way of functioning and interacting expected out of its employees. Normal working conditions would give the new recruit an opportunity to observe people first hand, but similar opportunities lack in remote working or within those staggered office hours. And this is where asking yourself questions that follow can help you in gauging the overall attitude and character of the company, and thus manage your interactions accordingly: How does my manager want me to communicate my progress with them? How do colleagues interact with each other? Are we expected to make group or autonomous decisions? How is feedback communicated? How are new ideas received? This is the cultural aspect.
  • The Interactions and Mode of Conduct: Organisations have a certain set of structures of hierarchy and decision-making. It is necessary to know dynamics of positional and personal power. Asking questions such as these would help you approach the right individuals or departments for the right task: Who does my work involve directly and indirectly? What does it take to earn the trust of management? How are new ideas driven forward? What approach does one take if one wants to change someone’s mind? What opportunities exist to take on new responsibilities? What are the best ways to communicate with team members and stakeholders, and in what ways do they vary person-to-person? These questions will essentially help one gauge the subtle codes of conduct and interaction within fellow employees.

Starting to work in a new company can feel a little overwhelming at first, especially if you have been hired remotely or you have limited face time with your new colleagues. To add to it, limited, or no onboarding process from the company’s side can make you feel alienated and isolated even if you love your new job. These questions will provide a starting point in getting to know your new company on the various levels, and thus tailor your tasks and interactions accordingly. The important thing is to give yourself the time to acquaint yourself with the new work environment, real or virtual and keep the learning curve rising, that too at multiple levels.

Antifragility: Growing Through What You Go Through

We have all seen those boxes with signs saying that something ‘fragile’ is being carried, and hence to ‘handle with care.’

We have heard about being resilient and being unaffected by change.

Now, have we heard of antifragile?

Consider fragility, antifragility and robustness as a spectrum. So first, let us see fragility. We are generally aware of what ‘fragility’ or being fragile means; it implies that things/phenomena need to be handled with care. Any unnecessary interruptions, disorder, disruption or chaos is likely to destroy anything fragile. A real world example is, say, someone who follows everything to the T; even a slight change in the rulebook is likely to throw them off the guard and they are unlikely to adapt well

Now, robustness. One would assume the opposite of fragile would be ‘robust’, which implies the phenomenon does not get affected by any intervention, uncertainty, chaos or disorder. A robust mindset implies someone who does not get affected by any disruptions or changes in the situation; sometimes that works great as resilience, and sometimes, it could translate negatively into stubbornness or rigidity of thoughts. 

But another ‘option’ for the opposite of fragile is antifragile; it implies anything or anyone who actually works great under pressure, chaos, change or disorder. So, someone who has an antifragile mindset is not merely resilient, they actually find ways to grow and develop their skills through the uncertain chaotic situations. It’s like that trait where a pressing deadline or a stressful situation actually pushes someone to do the job much more creatively and with great results. 

Antifragility is a concept expounded by Lebanese-American mathematician, statistician and former option trader Nasssim Nicholas Taleb in his famous book ‘Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder’. In the book, Taleb lays out his theories of how to deal with an uncertain world. He draws this from the concept of Black Swan, which he defines as ‘large-scale unpredictable and irregular events of massive consequences’, in his older book of the same name.

(Large-scale unpredictable and irregular events of massive consequences. Does that not sound familiar?)

As Taleb sees it, we overestimate our ability to predict with the fancy statistical tools and all the data, and when the something uncertain actually does happen, systems tend to collapse. The solution? Develop antifragility.

Greg Wymer succinctly puts this in context of entrepreneurship:

While each specific entrepreneurial journey requires different skills and competencies, one thing they all share is the need to operate under uncertainty and ambiguity. Succeeding and staying sane throughout the chaotic entrepreneurial process necessitates an antifragile mindset –- one that “improves” as a result of this volatility.

To sum up antifragility in Taleb’s words:

“Some things benefit from shocks; they thrive and grow when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorder, and stressors and love adventure, risk, and uncertainty. Yet, in spite of the ubiquity of the phenomenon, there is no word for the exact opposite of fragile. Let us call it antifragile. Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better.

Although the term might sound new, the concept in itself has been around us all this time, especially during the pandemic. We see how offices made the best of WFH, thinking of ways to keep the employees engaged; we see how everything that had been carried out offline, from interviews, recruitments, to meetings shifted online, and in no time developed everything into what is now called the ‘new normal’. We were not only resilient, we actually found a way to thrive under the uncertainty. That is antifragility.

Now that we know the actual word for this attitude that a lot of us developed over these months, is it possible to develop such a mindset consciously? We will delve into two ways where we can (and may or may not have used antifragility without realising), one on a psychological level and another on an entrepreneur/professional level, both being closely related.  

The Psychological Level:

Developing an antifragile mindset at the psychological and emotional level doesn’t imply quitting our certain level of emotional fragility that naturally comes with being human, nor does it mean to accept things as they are with a sense of resignation and resentment. Rather, it implies accepting the things are not the same, and that it is necessary to think of new ways of implementing new methods, rather than using the new methods in old ways. Controlling the pandemic is out of hands, but controlling how we let the changes in the situation affect us is in our control.

Entrepreneur/Professional Level:

Drawing on what Greg Wymer lists out, antifragility for entrepreneurship and/or in the professional sphere can be developed consciously by:

Maintain a bias toward learning and personal growth, instead of financial success: It all comes to down to having a growth mindset, where every step, good or bad, every endeavour, irrespective of whether it ‘reaped a reward’ or not is seen as an opportunity to learn and grow. That is a major way to thrive, no matter what the situation is.

Keep your eyes open when you’re getting punched in the face: Building on the previous point, grow from the discomfort that comes with difficult situations by paying attention to what exactly bogged you down, and finding ways to deal with it rather than focusing on the discomfort in itself.

Develop the ability to flow with randomness: Remember the concept of antifragility itself and have a perspective that the universe is conspiring you to provide learning from each situation, regardless of how pleasant or unpleasant it is.

Follow an approximate direction, not a detailed roadmap: Building further on the previous points,treat each obstacle as a new potential path forward, and think in terms of following a system rather than following a goal. To elaborate a bit on the latter, working within an antifragile, growth mindset would be the system and also the goal, allowing one to be flexible when the objective goal itself is thwarted.

The thing with the pandemic or any difficult situation is that it all comes back to a similar lesson: grow through what you go through. It all might sound repetitive, with the same tone of motivation. But an awareness about the concept of antifragility will help us harness our power to be flexibly resilient in a manner that frees us from the rigid standards of what success and growth mean.

A Look into Gamification At Work

The word ‘games’ brings to mind indoor board-games, outdoor sports, popular video-games and games we play on our smartphones. We think of competitiveness, leader-boards, high-scores and level ups. How does the thought of ‘gamifying’ work and workplaces sound like?

Let us delve a bit into what ‘gamification’ is and how it could turn out in the world of work.

Note that we aren’t talking about playing games at work or participating in sports activities that companies often organise as a way for employees to take a break or get to know everyone. We are in a different ‘ballgame’ when we talk about gamification at work.

A Simple Game:

What is gamification at workplace/business? According to an article by Christina Pavlou on, “Gamification in the workplace is the use of game techniques in a non-game context. Companies create internal competitions to engage employees in a healthy “race” and incorporate scores, levels, and prizes, as extra motivation. “

So, a very simple example would be programmes like ‘employee of the month’, where the ‘winner’ might get some sort of a gift hamper or a bonus incentive.

Or it could be that an employee may get a certificate after receiving training for a specific skillset, or course.

Working around important psychological principles of recognition, sense of competition, and reward, gamification motivates one to work harder and expand one’s horizons, thus increasing employee engagement.

To put it simply, ‘gamification is a simple strategy of applying game-oriented thinking to various non-game applications’, as summed up by Sergey Cujba, head and sales of marketing of Certificates, gift hampers, badges, leader-boards and awards are some common, minor, simple ways gamification seeps into our day-to-day professional lives without even us realizing it.

Games for the Customer:

Companies, especially the ones concerned with sales and customers have also often used gamification as a way to retain their customers. Sergey Cujba gives the examples of how ‘Coca-cola integrated the element of game design back in 2006, encouraging consumers to collect their loyalty points and get rewarded with exciting prizes. They integrated gamification as part of their popular ‘My Coke Rewards’ campaign and they ultimately retained around 20m lifetime members eventually.’

Gamification is so deep seated into our daily lives at this point, as we saw earlier that we don’t even realise it. When an app or a website ‘congratulates’ us through pop up boxes and celebratory sounding notifications, when we click on a tab, or renew/get a subscription, they are essentially gamifying our experiences. Now we know what brands do!

But is there any other gamification could be used? The next bit is especially interesting for recruiters.

Taking Away the Burden of Assessment:

An article on by Dr. Mathew Neale tells us about the potential of gamification in the traditional hiring process:
“When we think of the hiring process, we often picture all how candidates have to generate interest from potential employers – by capturing their attention with an impressive resume or making a good first impression in an interview. But as these traditional hiring methods give way to data-driven forms of recruitment and assessment, employers should also be thinking of ways to engage candidates by giving them tests and other tasks that will provide concrete data on their abilities and fit for a position.”

The article further tells us how gamification in the hiring process can be used to ‘increase confidence and performance’. The various assessment tests could be gamified, citing an example, the article goes on:

“One of the biggest advantages of gamified hiring is its predictive power – games can be constructed to accurately reflect specific elements of a job and criteria employers are looking for, which means candidates’ performance is an indicator of how they would perform on the job. For example, Criteria’s Emotify is an ability-based measure of emotional intelligence that assesses a candidate’s ability to accurately perceive and understand emotions. It’s useful for performance in roles where interpersonal interaction is important – for example, managing people, dealing with customers. Considering the amount of time and expense associated with hiring – as well as the disruption caused when companies discover that new employees aren’t a good fit – it’s vital to have a reliable picture of what companies can expect when applicants become employees.”

This in turn can also help candidates be prepared about the demands and expectations from a job without the usual sense of burden.

The same article also tells us how “it isn’t enough to evaluate candidates with cognitive tests alone. These tests also have to keep people engaged, as this will provide a more accurate picture of their capabilities (nobody is at their best when taking a perfunctory and boring multiple-choice test).” Moreover, these tell the manager how a candidate is likely to approach a task, based on how they approach the gamified version. The catch here is that the gamification should not only be relevant and fun but should also actually measure the relevant traits and skills.

As with anything, there’s a limit to the extent gamification works. Further, the way it is implemented and constructed makes a difference. While thinking of gamifying any process, be it an assessment test, training or day-day to company activities, one needs to be careful that:

  • Employees/candidates/trainees/customers don’t feel that they are not being taken seriously.
  • The gamification is relevantly done, for an appropriate matter.
  • The goals, system and criteria for rewards/recognition, and the rules are clearly communicated. Moreover, the purpose of gamifying should also be made clear.
  • The companies keep updating the incentives, and most importantly, one doesn’t overdo it. As Pavlou mentions, gamified badges and rewards can lose their appeal over time, and everyone might not be interested in participating all the time. It is thus important to strike a balance, and know when to use gamification and when to use a more traditional methodology.

Personal Power V/S Positional Power

As the popular idiom goes, with great power comes great responsibility, and it is assumed that power comes with experience, wisdom, trust from people around us and in the context of the workplace, the position. But powers can be of various kinds of; a manager, or executive or any upper-level management can be said to have ‘positional power’. Their power to undertake tasks, to delegate, to act as a representative, to make key decisions comes from their position. As the term suggests, it is a hierarchy-based power. That is one type of power, called the positional power.  

There is another type of power, what one might call ‘personal power’. As the name suggests, such a power can be harnessed at a more personal level. Personal power comes from the recognition of power in oneself; the power to take responsibility and to have a sense of purpose; the power to believe in oneself and one’s competence. Recognition of personal power in oneself leads to recognition by others of that same power. It is personal power that enables your colleagues to trust you and see you as a pillar in times of conflict.

Ultimately, regardless of whether you have the positional power, it is the personal power that makes you a leader. Positional power can make you a manager on paper, but without harnessing your personal power, becoming a manager who leads, is almost an impossibility.

So, what are some ways one can harness this personal power and light up the spark of leadership and self-belief?

Have a Growth Mindset: This is a buzzword we all have heard at some point. But it’s really a simple concept, and once we realise this, it becomes an obvious mindset to have. Growth mindset means a mindset where you are curious to know more; where you see every day and every interaction an opportunity to grow your understanding. It includes the acceptance that you may be wrong or that you can’t be the expert in everything, but that nevertheless you always, always learn.

Be it upper-level management or an entry level position, curiosity and a willingness to listen is a definitely power. A manager with a growth mindset, curious and willing to listen, encourages new ideas, a myriad of voices, allowing the team members to speak up without hesitation. Contrast this someone who doesn’t listen, or someone who only listens to a select few. The former would definitely have more of the personal power, with the recognition and trust from the team that ‘Yes, this person will listen to my ideas respectfully.’ 

Have a Purpose: Having a sense of purpose it under-rated. To quote an article by People Matters:

‘Being connected to a greater purpose enables you to use your power effectively. The sense of meaning and mission in life means you don’t get caught up in momentary dramas. Your day isn’t a matter of ticking items off your to-do list, but of connecting your every action to your greater goal. Having purpose gives you resilience; you’re more able to reset after failure because you have a north star guiding you. 

Purpose directs us under crisis and extreme stress.’

It is this ‘north-star’ of the greater goal that helps you to harness your power without falling into the vices of office politics and petty issues.

Close to having a sense of purpose is the next point.

Have a Sense of Focus: With positional power comes the responsibility of the need to tick off multiple tasks, of having multiple to-do lists, spanning across departments.

It is important to respond to the right issues. To quote the People Matters article again,

‘Without the capacity to direct your attention, you are a leaf in the wind, blown about every which way. You respond to everything but accomplish nothing…you must quiet the inner and outer voices and develop your emotional self-regulation, so you don’t react to every little thing. And above all, you must set boundaries to have time to think, reflect, and contemplate.’

 Creating priority lists, with urgent to important spectrums defined, delegating tasks which often act as incentives, are some ways one can develop this sense of focus.

Have a Sense of Responsibility: And finally, personal power cannot be ignited without a sense of responsibility. Whether you have positional power or not, a sense of responsibility to grow, to help others grow, to learn and help others learn is essential to feel powerful and not feel like a victim of circumstances, where power might feel like something thrust upon you.

A willingness to take charge regardless of one’s position enables you see opportunities even in tricky situations. Such a sense of responsibility is the key to acknowledging your power to make tiny to big changes, and to be the change.

Positional power is designated, whereas personal power comes from within, and that is the beauty of it- irrespective of the status on paper, you can always be in charge of your own destiny by igniting the personal powers of growth, purpose, focus, and responsibility.