Joking Around and Taking Work Seriously
It’s possible to be totally serious about your job yet give the impression that you’re not. That was what Sean discovered.
Sean is a software guy who describes himself as a hard worker who is fun-loving and playful. But maybe he overdoes the playful part, because his manager told him he needs to take his job more seriously. Sean, however, contends that his playfulness helps him do a better job.
Sean’s experience reminded me of a team of hardware wizards who were working on a senior manager’s misbehaving laptop. Unexpectedly, the manager dropped in, and what he heard displeased him: loud, raucous laughter. This laughter convinced the manager that the team wasn’t taking his laptop problem seriously.
But as Bethany, the team’s manager, told me, laughter helps the team cope, making it easier to tackle the serious, high-priority, stress-inducing problems they face every day.
In both of these situations, the levity and lightheartedness of people who do take their jobs seriously was misinterpreted to mean they don’t.
Nevertheless, both Sean and Bethany’s team members need to realize that perceptions are powerful. If people perceive that you’re not taking your job seriously, then in their minds, you’re not, and insisting that you do take it seriously is unlikely to change their minds.
In Sean’s case, the issue is one of balance. A certain amount of playfulness is probably fine, and possibly even welcomed by his coworkers. But Sean’s ability to progress in his current job—and to ascend the career ladder—is going to depend not just on what a crackerjack software guy he is, but also on his demeanor in doing his job.
That doesn’t mean it’s wrong to occasionally crack a joke or be a little silly. But the playfulness needs to kept in proper proportion—and avoided altogether in genuinely serious situations. If Sean feels the culture of his team is too serious for his taste and he’s unwilling to moderate his behavior, he may be best served by looking for a job elsewhere.
The solution for Bethany’s team may be more straightforward. The team works in a workshop-type space. If they keep the door to their workshop closed during times of greatest stress, then they can laugh their heads off without worrying about being misconstrued. But if the door must remain open, then they need to be cognizant of the potential pitfalls of their laughter, and perhaps learn to do it more quietly or for shorter periods at a time. And learning the art of rapidly stifling laughter upon the arrival of a visitor may not be a bad skill to develop.