Which Is Right – Too Serious At Work Or Fun At Work?

Murugan S.

“He is our manager who is sitting inside that cabin right before us.” The HR staff informed me in a hushed voice not to disturb other persons working in the room. I looked around and could see many staff sitting on their respective seats with grim faces.

“And please wait until he calls you”- saying this the HR person went into another cabin. That was the first day at my new job in that company.

I looked at the manager through the glass of that cabin.

The eyebrows of that manager were lowered slightly and wrinkled. His eyes were squinting as if reading the small print or seeing through the haze of smoke. He had a straight face as if concealing the impulse to laugh.

I could see no laugh line on the face. The face seemed to have lost its muscle memory of how to laugh and had forgotten to smile for years. I could feel a chill running up my spine on seeing that serious appearance.

As I was scanning him, he slowly lifted his head and waved his hand at me signalling to come inside his cabin. The chill at my spine, then, moved down to reach adrenaline to release epinephrin – a stress hormone – immediately.

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No sooner I entered his cabin, he asked me, “So, you are the new supervisor selected at our head office?” The voice was so low-pitched that we must amplify the sensitivity of our ears to hear his voice clearly. “Yes…. sir”, I replied, may be, monotonously.

I was standing behind a chair, which was in front of his table, as he didn’t signal me to sit. (I had been told by HR not to sit in front of him unless he says so).

“Anyhow, as you have been already selected,” he continued, “I don’t want to waste time. My advice is that as you have just come from college, pack teenage naughtiness, playfulness, etc., in a bag and leave it at home. Here, you must take work as serious, understand? Now you can go.”

I nodded my head and thanked God as he relieved me without asking further questions.

Very soon I found out that working under him was like a hell. He callously would push the people, would take credit when things went right, and would point fingers when they didn’t. He was generally too stingy on praise and rewards.

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However, as the company showed good results, our management admired him. Even the serious looking appearance was considered as being professional. (You could see only grim and emotionless faces around the company if you happened to visit).

Soon I lost my interest in working in that company and when I discussed with my senior, he advised, “See! He (the manager) just hasn’t any talent. He just hides himself in that serious-look appearance to show our management that he is working hard. Though the results what now he is showing are better, it will not be very long that he will be removed, or he will self-destruct. Wait and see”.

It happened exactly within next one year when some crises hit our textile market. He almost self-destructed by his bad decision and was subsequently asked by the management to leave.

With my experience with him and subsequent managers and our Japanese customers, I learnt that in life, there would be situations in which being serious might benefit us.

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For example, at business negotiations, maintaining the serious appearance will give us an upper hand. Giggling during the meeting or doing some funny things would certainly make the others think that we are not serious in the business.

However, we must keep in mind that seriousness has its limitations. From time to time we need to loosen up. “People rarely succeed unless they have fun in what they are doing” – Dale Carnegie.

It’s a common perception that fun is something that happens outside of work hours and could potentially detract from our concentration, accuracy and take time away from our daily work tasks.

A sense of fun helps people to have a more positive mindset, enjoy higher levels of wellbeing and better mental health resulting in lower levels of absenteeism and work-related errors.

When to be serious and when to be funny is an art and it can be learned through practice.


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