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What Effect Does Management Humour Have On Problem-Solving?

As someone who likes to think of themselves as possessing a good sense of humour and the ability to use it well in management situations, my eye was caught by an article from Professor Robert Wood in Organizational Psychology Review.

Robert and his team presented a framework for analysing the role of humour in managerial communications, and I was particularly struck by the ideas contained within problem-solving and face to face meetings.

Managers are warned to be wary of using humour while introducing complex information. Research from mood studies suggests that humour influences the depth-processing of information; and positive humour may lead to effort-minimising, simpler strategies to solve problems. It seems you need to temper your natural sense of humour if you need your team to solve a problem that requires deeper and more complex processing. Although using humour asides will help maintain attention and, therefore, work better when communicating simpler information.

Research that shows how humour influences the framing of the problem during the early stages, indicates that there are advantages in using humour.  Just as great comedians make us laugh and reconsider things we take for granted, managers using similar strategies such as ambiguities, inconsistences and paradoxes can help us to reconsider and situations differently. The team proposes that the use of both positive and negative managerial humour about a situation at the early stages can improve problem solving by encouraging different framings or alternative definitions of the problem. If you want your team to consider other, less obvious options, lighten the mood.

Wood, R., Beckmann, N., & Rossiter, J. (2011). Management humor: Asset or liability? Organizational Psychology Review, 1 (4), 316-338 DOI: 10.1177/2041386611418393

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A question of freedom: Autonomy, motivation and self determination theory

More workplace autonomy may positively affect satisfaction and movitation

MSc dissertation, Institute of Work Psychology, University of Sheffield 2009.

My interest in workplace autonomy began upon hearing an interview with Ricardo Semler on the BBC. The company he owned (Semco) was very successful and yet was not hierarchically structured. Mr Semler explained that there were no job titles; if an employee was capable of executing a particular activity then he or she possessed the freedom to do so. A few years later an interview with an ex-director of Shell brought his ideas about “responsible autonomy” to my attention. The industry in which I had been working (IT service) was generally structured on command control lines, and I was interested to explore how some of these new ideas could influence outcomes in the sector.

On the MSc course I became familiar with the positive relationship between autonomy and outcomes including job satisfaction and strain reduction. However, having spent many years working in the private sector I felt that a change of workplace configuration would only occur if evidence of effects leading to output gains were available. I focused on the relationship between autonomy and motivation posited by two factor theory and the job characteristics model. However, the empirical evidence for both of these was weak. I found that self-determination theory (SDT; see Gagne & Deci, 2005), provided a more detailed account of the autonomy-motivation relationship. This theory was also supported by substantial empirical evidence from the workplace, education and sport domains.

In the 18th century Rosseau suggested that considerable control may be exercised over individuals if they have the impression that they are acting freely. Others (see Knights & Willmott, 2002) warned of a new insidious technology of power in which managers may use the language of freedom to exert control. They suggested that the imperceptible nature of such strategies are potentially problematic; this may be reflected in phenomena such as staff working unnecessary longer hours. The idea of autonomy-as-good has also been described as a culturally situated concept. Schwartz (2000) argued that choice and freedom may be in fact restrictive, and offers the example of language which, while liberating, only works via rules and strictures. Finally, the ‘flow’ research programme found that people were more often in the positive state of flow at work, rather than in their free time.

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Relaxation-induced cortisol changes within lunch breaks – an experimental longitudinal worksite field study

How you spend your lunch break may impact on stress hormone levels

How do you spend your lunch break? Progressive muscle relaxation during your lunchtime routine could impact on your immediate levels of cortisol, as well as your levels of long-term chronic stress.

A new study by Jarek Krajewski, Martin Sauerland, and Rainer Wieland seeks to advance knowledge of how to maximise recovery during lunch break routines, based on the cognitive-behavioural model of relaxation. According to the authors, “optimising the recovery impact of lunch breaks may be a promising path for solving problems of high stress and the resulting impact on performance, health, and quality of life” (p. 383).

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Speaking of dominance, status differences, and identification: Making sense of a merger

Individual perspectives may be important during organizational mergers

Today, as organizations are operating within increasingly unstable environments, a process exacerbated by the present economic climate, many are forced to restructure, or merge with other organizational counterparts. To better understand the micro-level processes which may hinder or facilitate such organizational changes, it is crucial to study the perspectives of individuals involved in such developments.

The present study was conducted in the context of a merger between two universities. When no substantial collaboration resulted between the merging universities one year after its initiation, the university’s internal Teaching and Learning Centre commissioned the authors of the study, Mark van Vuuren, Paul Beelen and Menno D. T. de Jong, to evaluate the development of the merger. The perceptions, sensemaking and thought processes and emotions of fourty individuals who were working in departments which had actually merged with a counterpart of the other university, were collected through interviews and a focus group.

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MSc Dissertation: Mental Toughness – An investigation into the impact of a mental toughness coaching program within a call centre

Can mental toughness be developed through a coaching program?

Popular management literature has frequently referred to the concept of mental toughness and hardiness as a key psychological characteristic necessary to succeed in the business world.

Qualitative studies have shown managers with higher hardiness scores are more likely to deal effectively with potentially stressful environments than those with lower levels (Hamilton & James 2004). Recent research would suggest that mental toughness is not a stable trait, like personality, but appears to develop over time (Bull et al., 2005). The question from academics and practitioners alike is: “Can mental toughness be developed?

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