Friday, May 10, 2013

Annex 19 - Levity

What do you think of the theme of this post? Did it make you smile? 
Did you smile at work yesterday? How many times did you laugh? Last year, 57% of 1400 Chief Financial Officers (CFOs) surveyed, felt that workplace humor was important. Do you think that humor is also important for our ATC offices and workspaces? 

Humor does have a place in ATC. It can be an effective communicative tool that reduces tension in a stressful atmosphere, build cohesiveness between coworkers and foster wholesome friendships that are based on trust. One employee who worked in a high-pressure sales office decided to lighten the mood in response to a command by her boss to label everything correctly. She did just that. She labeled all the files, the desk, the chair, the copier, the phone, the stapler, even the dead bug in the light fixture. Soon she had everyone in the office relaxed, including her boss due to her good sense of humor (Lester 2013).
You may remember similar situations in which an ATCO relates a humorous experience or tells a joke right after unusual situations in the Centre or the Tower. Or, you yourself might have exchanged a "petite plaisanterie" with a pilot or two over the frequency. Indeed, the levity effect, as it is expertly called can do more than to act as a stress-reliever at work (Christopher and Gostick, 2010). 
Incidentally, the theme of this post was an example of workplace humor which is the synonymous phrase for levity. While all ANSPs may indeed benefit, there is no Annex 19 in our ICAO SARPs (Global Standards of Safe and Recommended Practices for ANSPs from the International Civil Aviation Organization). What do you think about the poster below?  It is another example of workplace humor.  

Levity can enrich workplace culture, encourage employee engagement and create a welcome atmosphere in our workplaces. How will you describe the atmosphere where you work? Is the work atmosphere of the Tower warm or  is it uninviting? Is the  work atmosphere of the Enroute Centre pleasant, or is it filled with a cold silence that is interrupted mostly by squelches of the frequency and flat, toneless, impassive instructions from our fellow ATCOs? And what about our administrative office, is the atmosphere there friendly or is there an undercurrent of hostility? If so, your ANSP will benefit from a dose of levity.
But workplace humor has a dark side.  This darker aspect of humor is more serious than the sometimes offensive, tasteless jokes we hear and the nervous laughter that follows embarrassing moments.  Humor is an effective communication tool because it can also be used to demonstrate power.  This is not a bad thing since the softer face of its power has been useful to engender team spirit, mitigate conflict in meetings and even to reprimand an employee while still showing dignity and respect as a superior (Holmes and Marra 2006). 
However, humor at work can become a sword in the hands of a manager to subtly ridicule her employees, or to tacitly emphasize her status (Romero and Cruthirds 2006). Of course, the psychological motivation for the former behavior is an indirect way to force compliance while the latter is  an indirect way to demand respect. Both behaviorisms are passive-agressive displays of workplace bullying. An ANSP can never transform progressively if the leadership style has caused or is a source of discomfort among ATCOs and other employees. 
While tricky, workplace humor can benefit the management and leadership style of ANSPs (Myatt 2012). Levity in all corners of an ANSP, if properly handled, improves the work climate and contributes much to an ATCO's wellbeing.  

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