Some of the happiest places I have ever worked have been where ‘play’ has been part of ‘work’.
Playfulness, joking, ‘taking the mickey’, banter and even practical jokes helped create relaxed, convivial and pleasant places to work. I’m convinced that such an ethos not only contributed to productive and creative working relationships between colleagues but also with children, parents and to the quality of learning.
Bouncing ideas around and planning new initiatives happened as much in the pub as the staff room. We organised school trips, residentials, concerts, plays and pantos not just for educational attainment but also for the sheer fun of it. People paid flirtatious compliments to each other by joking about new clothes, haircuts, losing weight or gaining it.
Much of the banter though not necessarily of a sexual nature, had a sexualised and flirtatious character to it. People joked about being married, single, straight or gay; husbands, wives, boyfriends, girlfriends were the butt of endless stories; ‘going out’, ‘staying in’, ‘meeting someone new’ and ‘getting dumped’ was an endless series of sometimes hilarious tragi-comedy.
In the febrile and often highly stressed atmosphere of a hard working inner city school, and in a profession as collegial as teaching, it’s hardly surprising then that many of my best colleagues also became my best friends – some of them lasting a life-time.
Play, jokes and banter help build and establish trust between people. But they also come with risk. That’s part of how they work. Play and jokes are rule governed behaviours. Once the rules are broken or there is an attempt to explain how they work, they don’t work anymore.
There were times of course when people recognised an additional element in that banter – they recognised sexual attraction – which sometimes led on to long-term relationships and in some cases even marriage. (Of course, it also led to ‘one night stands’ too – but we usually never heard about those..!)
I read recently the perhaps unsurprising statistic that something like 75-80% of all relationships, including those resulting in marriage, begin in the workplace.
Most of the 25,000 new teachers entering the profession every year in England are in their twenties and single.
If you never engage in any kind of flirtatious and sexualised banter with colleagues, how will you ever signal attraction to those with whom you are most likely to source your long-term relationships?
Is engaging in flirtatious and sexualised banter with colleagues really so unprofessional?