Humor, Job Satisfaction go hand in hand

posted: 06..18.13
“THIS IS NOT SUPPOSED TO BE FUN!” I remember being a young and fairly new air traffic controller when a second level manager, making his daily pass through the operation room, yelled that at all of us. We were having a good time. Enjoying work.  Building good relationships. Developing trust. Still doing our job, mind you.  Our supervisor was right there with us, and as you can imagine, he got the worst lecture of his career immediately after.

I also recall an older, very experienced controller having a humorous exchange with a pilot on the frequency.  They were having a good time. Enjoying work.  Building good relationships.  Developing trust.  Still doing their job, mind you.

Generally, laborers get along really well with each other. They also take great pride in their work and the quality of their performance.  The same for pilots and controllers. They get along, too.  Many first level supervisors are included as well.  So where does the disconnect come from? Why does a second level manager stifle the humor and friendliness?

For me, proper clean humor is a great tool for relationship building. It is for many people.  Laborers seem to work autonomously, but I believe most would admit that every day is a “team” effort. One individual cannot control an airport, construct a skyscraper or piece together an automobile.  And because it takes a team, we must function as a team, and well functioning teams have trust relationships built on observation, respect and mutual desire to be successful.   It makes people want to go to work, and enjoy it while they are there.

Admittedly, there is a grey line between humor and distraction in the workplace. That’s why in most control towers you will find a supervisor, policing that grey line and insuring that inattention to duty first does not drift into the equation. The supervisor’s role is to enable the work and insure productivity, both short and long term.  In order to best manifest that tall expectation, they must strike a balance between relationships with those that accomplish productivity and expected high levels of performance.  That supervisor should know, and should be accountable to know, each individual’s limits and indicators of stress and/or lack of full attention. Controllers are as individual as the traffic situations they work every day.  So is any worker.

I don’t mean to address the psychological reasons for management’s quest for seriousness and robotic behavior here.  There are plenty of sound arguments on both sides of their position and mission, including the stress that is natural to performance based organizations.  However, in aviation there is an ever-present (if not growing) gap between safety and efficiency.  Not the efficiency of air travel or of producing more widgets, but the efficiency of a performance based organization. That gap coincidently mirrors the relationship between management and the workforce.

If the organization’s strategists and leaders want to make relevant, wise and productive decisions and policies, they need to openly communicate with the workforce. In fact, the organization is best served when senior management collaborate their strategies and policies with the workforce. Who better knows the work, current challenges and relative solutions than the workforce themselves?

Thus, management advantageously needs the relationship to be vibrant and healthy. Perhaps management should attempt proper clean humor to build that trust relationship.