We Filipinos are a hardworking type. We usually spend more time at work than at home, which makes the workplace a critical part of an employee’s well-being, happiness and satisfaction in life.
Despite all the pressures at work, either from the boss, the long working and unholy hours, or the very work itself, why are Filipino workers still able to cope with the daily grind? The answer lies in one of the most salient characteristics innate to our culture ― humor.
Cheerfulness is a predisposition among Filipinos. According to the 2022 World Happiness Report, the Philippines is the sixth-happiest country across the Asia-Pacific region, and second throughout Southeast Asia, next only to Singapore. The report measures happiness based on life evaluations as the more stable measure of the quality of people’s lives.
This is consistent with all the local surveys. “SWS: 57 percent ‘very happy’ with love life” and “73 percent of Filipinos expect a happy Christmas – SWS” are just some of the headlines that attest to the Filipinos’ cheerfulness.
Therefore, in the workplace, there is truth in the proverbial mababaw ang kaligayahan (shallow happiness). So, one of the distinct characteristics of the Filipino is our unique sense of humor. Scientists have already proven the link between happiness and sense of humor.
Filipinos break out in laughter in even the smallest provocation. We easily laugh at the mirthful antics of a gay colleague, the slapstick of an office jester, the occasional humorous interruptions in a serious meeting, the funny text messages we receive, or even the blunders of the boss.
It’s just in our nature to find humor in any unexpected situation and incongruous behavior of others; and this is how we cope with the pressures of work and life in general. This is explained in the pioneering research of Dr. Maria Rhodora Ancheta of the University of the Philippines titled “The National Humor of the Philippines: Defining Filipino Humor in Contemporary Popular Culture Forms,” where she says that laughter makes Filipinos survive and reduce conflicts.
How humor helps the Filipino in coping with workplace demands is supported by several studies that have shown that humor in the workplace helps release strain and tension among workers and diffuse conflict. Humor also promotes group cohesiveness, builds rapport among team members and enhances team building among diverse groups, helping increase team performance.
But how do we promote humor in the workplace? In many cases, we see pronouncements among managers and leaders “to have fun” at work, oftentimes the last spiel in a PowerPoint presentation in a team or a town hall meeting; but does it automatically translate to behaviors that promote humor at work?
Workplace humor is a projection of the culture of the organization. The leader plays a critical role in the symbolization and projection of this culture. It’s incumbent upon the leader to promote a “fun” culture by first learning to laugh at himself or herself in front of employees. According to a Harvard Business Review study on “What Makes a Good Leader,” one of the key qualities of a great manager is a “self-deprecating sense of humor.”
Leaders can produce a pun that points directly to the employee behavior, which interestingly can reinforce positive behavior as well as discourage negative behavior. Leaders can likewise use humor to bridge the gap between management and employees by reducing tension and status differentials. A leader with a sense of humor promotes a positive atmosphere that is conducive to teamwork, cohesiveness and creativity that ultimately redounds to employee motivation and satisfaction.
The author is the founder and CEO of Hungry Workhorse Consulting, a digital and culture transformation consulting firm. He is a fellow at the US-based Institute for Digital Transformation. He teaches strategic management in the MBA Program of De La Salle University. The author may be emailed at email@example.com.