Thursday, April 1, 2010

Culture: Should This Be a Holiday?

TORONTO, ONTARIO - I generally tend to believe that humor can add to productivity, but this date on the calendar often makes me wonder. Besides the antics that can distract from productivity that often occur on this date, it's difficult to take any gesture that is the least bit surprising seriously when it comes out on this day. It makes me wonder if the day should not just be declared a holiday.

April 1st is a day when one has to be alert when listening to the media. The best of the April Fool's jokes are those that are credible enough that a casual listener won't catch the details that make them incredible, and thus believes the story. I was listening with heightened alertness today when the story came up of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police's apology to Zofia Cisowski. Cisowski's son Robert Dziekanski died after being tasered by the RCMP as he entered the country at Vancouver Airport in 2007. The public apology came as part of an out-of-court settlement between Cisowski and the RCMP.

I actually wasn't certain that this was a real story. Considering the date on the calendar and the despicable behaviour of the RCMP in apparently covering up what actually happened that day, a public apology seemed out-of-character, and thus exactly the kind of thing that could be an April Fool's joke. Of course, nobody would actually be so cruel as to compound this tragic case with an April Fool's joke; both the settlement and the apology were very real, and should finally bring some closure to a very tragic event.

Yet, the very fact that I could have even suspected an April Fool's joke demonstrates the difficulty in doing anything on this day. It's risky to engage in business negotiations on this day, as any change in position might just be a joke. (That's not far-fetched--I once did that with a partner company to see how they would react and let the joke sit for several minutes before backing out of it. It was quite informative.) Can a personal e-mail be taken seriously on this day? I suppose that depends on the people in your life.

Combine those handicaps with some of the jokes I've seen played in the corporate world on this day, and it's a wonder anyone tries to do anything on April 1st. I've seen IT people set people's monitors to display upside down, desks moved across the office, and phone lines set to always call time as well as things that were much easier to work around.

We can always use another holiday. I would suggest that the impact on productivity would be minimal if April Fool's Day were made a holiday.

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