The idea of humor in the workplace is not new. Research indicates humor can help increase creativity, cut stress, improve relationships, and attract clients. Yet, there are misconceptions about lightening up in the work environment.
Humor in the Workplace Myths
Some people believe that in order to show as sense of humor at work you must be willing to:
- Tell a dirty joke.
- Wear goofy hats or noses.
- Have frequent jelly-belly laughs.
- Give up being perceived as a committed professional.
- Risk not getting our work done, important work.
Not so! Let’s explore each of these five myths:
- Joke telling takes a certain kind of personality and skill. Work jokes can provide well-needed levity. If you are good at it go for it, but choose jokes with no racism, sexism, ageism, sarcasm, or put downs. Please, avoid DIRTY ones.
- Goofy clothing is not necessary. However, cheerful colors can uplift a heavy mood.
- Laughing is contagious, improves health and can create an upbeat mood. It can come in the form of giggles, chuckles, snickers, or my favorite, snorkels!
- We do not question that WestJet employees are serious about flying us around the world. Yet, they tell jokes, are playful, and engage passengers in a casual manner. Having a fun attitude can make time fly and improve our relationships with co-workers.
- It is possible to “whistle while you work” and still get the job done. In the story of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the dwarfs worked hard and whistled and sang at the same time. So can you: Heigh-Ho! Heigh-Ho! Off to work you go!
Humor in the Workplace Reality
So, what is humor in the workplace about? Michael Kerr, author of You Can’t Be Serious: Taking Humor to Work and The Humor Advantage: Why Some Businesses Are Laughing All the Way to the Bank writes, “What I’m advocating is simply the need to laugh at ourselves more; to take ourselves less seriously in order to be more effective and (dare I say?) even more professional at work.”
Yes, in reality, most people are looking for a relaxed, welcoming, and fun workplace.
Thoughts on Laughter
In his book, Laughter, A Scientific Investigation, Dr. Robert Provine reported his research findings in which he discovered that jokes and direct efforts to get a laugh accounted for only 10 to 20 percent of our laughter. The other 80 to 90 percent of laughter erupted when we were merely enjoying the company of others. It seems smiles and laughter convey the message: I like being with you. Plus, they increase your likeability, approachability and, amazingly, trust.
Lastly, smiling and laughing are related to reducing stress and improving health. Laughing can be like an internal jog.
The Safest Joke is Self-Deprecation
As mentioned earlier, if you want to tell jokes at work, it’s important that they be the right kind of joke. Making yourself the ‘butt of the joke” is a safe approach and serves a dual purpose. It adds more fun to your work and allows you to cut yourself some slack in letting go of the need for constant perfection. So laugh at your mistakes and weaknesses. And, if you just cannot give up your perfectionist tendencies, at least make fun of them! Self-deprecating humor not only makes you more approachable; it is a wonderful coping mechanism.
Here is an example of self-deprecating humor: “Oops, I hit the delete button! An hour of work flushed down the delete toilet. Now, what will I delete? How about my critical self-talk?”
Fun Ways to Implement Humor in the Workplace
Workplace Humor for Business Discussions
- If you have something humorous to say that helps make the point, do so. But do not use a joke or a one-liner to merely impress. This fun statement is a good fit for a financial discussion: “This proposal will solve three of our main problems, but it doesn’t guarantee we will win the lottery.”
- Use humor as a conversation lubricant. When conversations become tense, a little humor can relax the atmosphere. Here is an example: “Hey, that reminds me of a time I was going to change my colleague’s mind. All I could change was a dime for two nickels.”
- Add humor to your sales pitch. Give specific facts about it and end with a little fun. There is a comedy formula called The Rule of Three. The first two points are truthful details while the last is a fun surprise. Our slicer-dicer will 1) make food preparation easier, 2) help you create gourmet meals and 3) make your friends think you are a sous-chef.
- Solve problems with humor. A fun atmosphere ignites creativity and brainstorming of previously unimagined ideas and solutions. Sometimes problems can become a gold mine. Think of products such as Post-it notes, which were born out of a glue formula that went wrong.
- Make fun of stressful situations. Here are three strategies and examples:
Exaggeration: “Woe is me and my business. That prospect said no and I’m doomed to live in a cardboard box.”
Reversal: “Lucky me! That prospect said no so I have time to make some cold calls.”
Spontaneity: “That prospect said no. Now, what creative move can I make?”
Workplace Humor for Meetings
- Arrive with fun food such as popcorn, licorice or cookies.
- Meet standing up, especially if you want your meeting to be brief. No, I didn’t say come dressed in your meeting briefs!
- Have speakers be in the nose. Pass a silly nose to the speaker of the moment.
- Give a standing ovation to those who come up with great ideas.
- Make a big deal about ending on time. “We did it! We did it!”
More Workplace Humor for the Office
- Start the day by reading the comics.
- Start a humor bulletin board.
- Cut out your favorite comic. Tack it to your humor bulletin board, or give to a co-worker or mail to an appropriate client. Do you remember the envelope, stamp, and mailbox routine?
- Play fun and upbeat music. I like the oldie but goodie Rock Around the Clock. Sounds like your workday, eh?
- Pass on silly email messages. Hit DELETE on the heavy, moralizing ones.
- In the washroom, have some fun items to see and read. Uncle John’s Bathroom series are a delight to have handy.
- Drink your herbal tea or water from a funky mug with a cheery image.
- Collect objects for your office that bring smiles: a pair of Groucho Marx glasses, a fun pen or a humorous poster.
- Make yourself a personalized workaholic sign such as Thank God It’s Monday.
Twelve Personal Ways to Mix Work and Play
- Volunteer to do tasks that you find pleasurable.
- Take deadlines and turn them into “desired target lines.”
- Embrace change. You can’t go around it, under it or over it. But you can go through it.
- Control what you can–your thinking, decisions, actions, reactions and conclusions.
- Now and then just give up. Go somewhere private, lie on the floor, and give in . . . maybe cry. Hopefully you’ll find yourself funny.
- Pay attention to what is working and celebrate. Yeeha!
- Take your breaks and lunch time. Use that discretionary time in a playful way, even if it means making a goofy face at yourself in the washroom.
- Remember the day you felt thrilled to get your job and you said something like, “Wow: I get paid to do this!”
- Make your environment playful with fun images, pens and gadgets.
- Learn to tell a joke.
- Whenever possible, smile, laugh, joke around, wink, skip and remember, once upon a time you pretended you worked because it was play.
- Take your allotted holidays and have a playful time.
If none of these ideas for humor in the workplace resonate with you, at least try to lighten up…even just a bit. See the craziness of seeking perfection, find joy in being human, and make time for some gloom-free moments.