Humor in the Workplace:
Get Serious About Laughter
By Elaine Ambrose
Did you hear the joke about the priest, the prostitute and the
politician who walked into the employee break room? Probably not.
While there is a time and a place for jokes, it’s a bad idea to
attempt to be funny at work with stories featuring religion,
sexuality or politics. However, a well-timed anecdote about the
befuddled customer who forgot his address can be the perfect
icebreaker to dispel tension in a serious staff meeting. While
timing should be considered, experts agree that laughter in the
workplace can be a real asset to profitability and productivity.
years of working in the super-serious, chuckle-challenged business
world, I know there is one essential truth: A sense of humor will
save your job and probably your life. My wicked and warped sense of
humor proved to be my best asset in times of terrible trouble.
humorous antics in the workplace are now encouraged by many
corporations, including General Electric, IBM and AT&T. Companies
of all sizes, services and products are adhering to a philosophy
that advocates humor programs to improve morale, relieve stress,
build camaraderie, and positively impact the bottom line. In an
attempt to turn the office into a quarterly comedy club, businesses
are hiring professional humor consultants who encourage employees to
lighten up and get serious about laughing.
medical experts agree with the ancient admonition that “Laughter is
the best medicine.” A hearty belly laugh can lower blood pressure
and laughter exercises the lungs, pumps more oxygen into the
bloodstream, and activates endorphins that make people feel good.
We were born with the ability to communicate with our emotions, and
that includes laughing and smiling. Yet it’s sobering to know that
young children laugh or smile more than 400 times a day while adults
are lucky to muster up a few daily chuckles. Kids shouldn’t be
having all the fun.
important to know that humor has a proper time and place. You don’t
want to become known as the joke of the company because of
tasteless and silly behavior. Before you start wearing a clown nose
to work every day, there are some guidelines to remember.
Know your audience: Knowing your audience is the first and most
important aspect of using humor at work. First, don’t use humor to
insult or offend anyone. Among friends, it may be common to gang up
on one friend, joking about an embarrassing memory or funny comment,
but that is certainly not appropriate among co-workers. Also, don’t
even think about jokes or anecdotes that include sexuality,
religion, politics, ethnic background, or someone’s personal
appearance. It’s a good idea to avoid gross stuff as well, as the
office is not the place for stories that include bodily functions.
During a briefing of a company’s new health plan, the male
facilitator joked that mammograms would now be conducted at
Hooters. The men laughed. The women threatened to sue.
sure to laugh at yourself: People enjoy self-depreciating humor
that’s not too pathetic. A middle-age speaker can win her audience
by joking about her age. For example, “I turned 50 years old and
decided it was finally time to travel and see the world.
Unfortunately, many of the historical sites are younger than I am
(pause for smiles).” Or, “I try to wear those tailored business
suits, but every time I suck in my gut, my ankles swell.” As a
warning, don’t go overboard on the self-depreciation or they’ll
start to agree that, yes, you are a loser.
Include company anecdotes: It’s always a good idea to joke about
the things employees can relate to, including stories about
products, competitors, difficult customers, and production goals.
Remember, a joke about a co-worker from a different department is
not acceptable. However, there are a few occasions that you can
incorporate personal stories about an employee. While you would
never comment on a worker’s weight gain, you could compliment
someone who has lost a significant amount. “Look at Roger. He’s our
shinning positive example of corporate downsizing!”
4. Use humor to
diffuse tension: The workplace can be a very stressful
environment! Humor is a great way to diffuse a high-tension
situation and reduce potential personnel problems. Companies
often go through times of high stress, especially if quotas are
increased and sales are down. You could start a presentation with a
mock exaggeration. “The light at the end of the tunnel has been
turned off due to budget constraints.” However, avoid the
temptation to criticize the boss during times of tension. One
employee actually told this joke during a heated meeting: “James is
a seagull manager. He flies in, make a lot of noise, dumps crap
everywhere, and then leaves.” The employee who made the joke was
encouraged to take his humor to a different job.
is still work to do: While everyone deserves his or her daily
dose of humor, it’s important to remember that you’re paid to do a
job, not to be the class clown. A few daily laughs will make the
workload better for everyone, but don’t let jokes distract you from
your work. Also, avoid emailing jokes on company time and on company
equipment … that’s not in your job description. For example, an
employee sent out a blanket email that stated, “Can I trade my job
for what’s behind Door #2?” Unfortunately, he inadvertently
included his boss in the email distribution. The boss returned the
following email. “Yes you can. Door #2 is the Unemployment Line.
The latest business
studies indicate there is room in the office for both a work ethic
and a sense of humor. Companies that incorporate humor into the
workplace experience a notable decrease in staff turnover and
absenteeism. Surveys reveal that most employees list a sense of
humor as an essential quality for their managers to have and use.
To foster healthy humor, employees are encouraged to create tools
that promote positive attitudes. Even simple ideas, such as a humor
bulletin board or a weekly joke calendar, can boost morale.
You can find more
information about humor in the workplace by researching online for
related books and articles. Preview national speakers bureaus and
speakers associations to find someone suitable for your organization
or business. Contact recommended facilitators and inquire about
their costs and programs. Then schedule a regular humor session for
your office and enjoy the rewards of working with happy people.
That’s so much better than working with crabby, stressed-out
employees who wouldn’t know a punch line if it hit them on the funny
Read other articles and learn more
about Elaine Ambrose.
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