The Importance of Keeping it Light Through Tough Times
Like it has for most people, COVID-19 derailed Levi’s established work-life routine in his Brooklyn apartment. A new part of his rearranging work life was that he found himself on daily TalentSmart Zoom calls in the afternoon. With so much change going on around him, he often logged onto these calls feeling varying degrees of anxiety, loneliness, and stress. But, he noticed that by the time he left the calls, he felt significantly better.
While some of Levi’s improved mood could be attributed to the practical elements of the calls (like talking through uncertainty as a group and mastering the remote meeting platform), a lot more of it seemed to stem from the overall atmosphere. He couldn’t help but smile as colleagues sitting in rooms across seven states joked about things like quarantining with a brand-new roommate, growing accidental mullets, putting on a “quarantine fifteen,” and letting hygienic and work wear practices vanish. This kind of fun-spirited sharing lightened the mood and brought TalentSmart team members all together. Like magic, he left the calls feeling less stressed-out, more connected to the team, and more prepared to be productive.
A recent Saint Louis University article reveals why the experience of these seemingly “magical” Zoom calls actually makes a lot of sense. Psychologists Heather Walker and Richard Harvey attributed this type of light working atmosphere to what they call “levity.” “Workplace levity” they wrote, “is an uplifting and pleasurable interaction that lacks tension and anxiety.” The benefits of levity, they found, extended far beyond a nice moment. Organizations that embraced levity long-term experienced benefits like:
- improved stress relief.
- improved attitudes as a result of a sense of belonging, value, and empowerment.
- increased psychological well-being.
- increased employee engagement.
- increased retainment.
- increased likelihood of employees referring other people to their organization.
- improved team cohesion.
But before everyone rushes out to implement mandatory pre-meeting jokes, it’s worth noting a potentially darker side to all of this. Approached incorrectly, attempted lightness and humor can be detrimental. Think of Michael Scott in The Office. He definitely thinks he’s pretty funny and light, but in reality, he’s a nightmare of a boss with no idea how he impacts the people around him. Studies confirm that humor used inappropriately in the workplace divides teams, disparages people, and distracts from deadlines and serious topics. Perhaps worst of all, leaders who disparage others in their humor cause employee disengagement and increased bad behavior.
So the real question is how do you avoid this twisted cousin of levity and create an environment of authentic and consistent levity?
Well, you need to operate from a foundation of emotional intelligence (EQ). Emotional intelligence is the ability to recognize and understand the emotions of yourself and others, and your ability to use this awareness to manage your behavior and relationships. EQ skills allow you to navigate social complexities (like timing and content of humor in meetings) in order to achieve positive results (like laughter, happiness, and collaboration).
On an individual level, people need EQ skills like self-awareness and social awareness to understand how their jokes or digressions come across to others, and they need self-management and relationship management to effectively filter their jokes and digressions according to the current situation and mood. On a team level, high EQ teams establish norms (written and unwritten) around their behavior, and they use these norms to keep each other in check. This way, when a team member’s joke or digression is inappropriate in any way, team members feel comfortable lightly calling them out. This builds out a true sense of trust and safety, which allows for an authentic and group-wide sense of levity.
Some Closing Thoughts
Levity can feel a bit intangible, like something a group either has or doesn’t have, but in reality, levity is created in a place of trust and respect where everyone is comfortable opening up. Laughter sparks social connections that strengthen team bonds, and emotional intelligence provides teams shared skills and vocabulary as they work to build their own environment of levity.
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