Gallows Humor Can Be a Powerful Force in the Workplace – Managers Beware

Gallows Humor Can Be a Powerful Force in the Workplace – Managers Beware

I’ve had the good fortune (or misfortune) to work in a number of dysfunctional unhealthy workplace environments over the course of my career. I say “good fortune” in the context of having the opportunity to experience first hand some of the bad manager behaviors that, in my current career, I try to teach people how to avoid.

Bad work environments often present more opportunities for learning than pleasant environments. This is similar to how we tend to learn more from working on a bad project than we do from working on a successful one. One of the things that I found to be consistent among dysfunctional work environments was the development of a very healthy gallows humor among the troops.

Gallows humor can be a powerful coping mechanism for those suffering in a dysfunctional work environment. Unfortunately it can also be a corrosive and destructive force from the view of management.

Coming from an engineering background I had the privilege of working with some very bright and creative people. These people often had a wonderful sense of humor. As an example at one job, noticing that our boss had the physical appearance and mannerisms not unlike those of the Kramer character on Seinfeld was a great realization. It provided many hours of comic relief those of us in on the secret.

At another company, I remember being in an important technical meeting between our team and our government customer’s team. One of our most dysfunctional and universally disliked managers (Bob X) was at the front of the room speaking on some issue. A senior member of the government team leaned over to me and whispered, “Bob’s government name is Flounder”. Suppressed laughter is a wonderful experience especially since the manager actually looked and sounded like the Flounder character from the movie Animal House.

While gallows humor can be beneficial to suffering employees, it can also be destructive to an organization. In a dysfunctional environment with a healthy gallows humor in place, any decision or initiative undertaken by management will be viewed skeptically by the troops. Each idea has to overcome this initial skepticism before any progress can be made. Many will not. Successfully running any organization is very challenging. Having to clear this unnecessary hurdle can sometimes be the difference between success and failure of an organization.

Take a moment and consider the following:

  • How Do You Contribute to Your Workplace Culture? – One of the characteristics of an Enlightened Project Manager is a commitment to helping the organization develop and maintain a healthy culture. We should all be working towards that goal.
  • Is Your Workplace Culture Healthy or Unhealthy? – You should also be able to recognize a healthy workplace culture versus an unhealthy one. Patrick Lencioni describes a healthy workplace culture along with the benefits in his book, The Advantage.

Please take some time to consider and share your thoughts on the following:

  • Do you contribute more to the dysfunction or the gallows humor in your organization?
  • How can you contribute to a healthy workplace culture?

©2017 Joseph T Drammissi

2017-06-21T18:45:38+00:00 April 18th, 2017|Categories: Enlightened PM, Management, Workplace Culture|Tags: , |0 Comments

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