Do You Know The Difference Humor Makes At Work?

Ease Stress With Humor

Laughter and humor have the power ease conflict situations, reduce stress and improve teamwork.

That’s the message I recently learned from Michael Kerr who gave an outstanding presentation to the PMI Southern Ontario chpater last week. Kerr describes himself as a recovering government manager. He is also the author of several books including The Humor Advantage. In this article, I will share what I learned from Mike and provide a short list of further reading resources.

Benefits On The Value of Humor At Work

You may be skeptical about merits and value of humor at work. I understand that perspective, especially if you tend to see yourself as a highly logical Mr Spock. Like it or note, emotional connection and mood have a significant impact on human performance and team results. Consider the following points.

1. Reduce Absenteeism. Work often grinds to a halt when a key person is absent from the office. Some level of absenteeism is expected, it can be reduced. Jessica Mesmer-Magnus, writing in the Journal of Managerial Psychology, found that “Humor is associated with enhanced work performance, satisfaction, workgroup cohesion, health, and coping effectiveness, as well as decreased burnout, stress, and work withdrawal.”

2. Improve Your Decisions. The quality of our decisions make an impact on our results.  Lydia Dishman writes in Fast Company: “Positive moods prompt “more flexible decision-making and wider search behavior and greater analytic precision.”

3. Boost Problem Solving Capacity. Our ability to solve problems depends on our emotional state. When we are in a positive state, we have increased capacity to solve problems. Alice M Isen writing in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology shares, “Studies have shown that simply watching comedy films can improve creative problem solving skills.”

4. High Performers Tend To Use Humor. A 2003 article in Harvard Business Review, “Laughing All the Way to the Bank” by Fabio Sala states, “The executives who had been ranked as outstanding used humor more than twice as often as average executives, a mean of 17.8 times per hour compared with 7.5 times per hour.”

Above and beyond these benefits, a bit of humor also makes the working experience more attractive. After all, there is no law that states we have to suffer at work to achieve success.

5 Ways To Add Humor To The Workplace

Master comedians spend years crafting material. In fact, Seinfeld’s number one piece of advice to aspiring comedians is to write a joke every single day for years on end. Fortunately, you don’t have to achieve comedy mastery to achieve the benefits.

1. Seek Out Comedy And Notice What Works

The first tip is to seek out more comedy. Yes, you have permission and encouragement to take in comedy shows. Some of my past favorites include Dilbert, The Office (so far, I’ve only seen the U.S. version) and attending Second City shows. Here’s a comedy lesson from “The Office”: be wary of trying to too hard. Comedy, like much in life, can be overdone.

2. Notice “Accidental” Comedy

There are countless mistakes in signs, policies and documents that have humor potential. In fact, Mike Kerr started collecting examples during his government career. Not sure what to look for? Check out these two videos for inspiration:

3. Participate In Humor At The Office

Adding humor at work doesn’t require you to play the role of the comedian. In many cases, it is enough to simply enjoy a joke or humor that someone else brings up.

Tip: Be wary of joining in on humor that attacks another person. Such jokes often leave wounds.

4. Experiment With Fun Ideas

In Mike Kerr’s presentation, he gave plenty of examples of fun, even wacky ideas to use at work. One approach is to create unconventional awards (e.g. “worst idea of the week”). Another approach is to bring in props to meetings. I can see value in these ideas. Yet, I have to confess that I have not tried that approach. As with all of these approaches, it is wise to start small.

5. Make Fun Of Yourself Occasionally

From time to time, it pays to make fun of yourself. It is a way to ease tension and conflict. This approach also helps people connect when there is a power or authority gap. I have certainly felt more connected with managers and leaders who occasionally joke than those who are “all business, all the time.”

Further Reading on Humor and Work

I hope I have inspired you to look for ways to add humor and comedy to your work. The resources below provide additional examples, evidence and techniques on using humor at work.

The Science-Backed Reason You Should Watch Standup Comedy Before A Meeting by Drake Baer (Business Insider). Of course, I enjoy comedy on its own merits. This article also suggests that we can improve performance in meetings simply by enjoying some comedy or humor first. In the article, you will learn about James Altucher‘s practice of using comedy to improve his performance.

10 Reasons Why Humor Is A Key To Success At Work by Jacquelyn Smith (Forbes). Smith’s article provides an overview of the merits of humor. If you have read this far and still have a skeptical view of humor, consider the following survey finding. “A Robert Half International survey, for instance, found that 91% of executives believe a sense of humor is important for career advancement; while 84% feel that people with a good sense of humor do a better job.”

The Humor Advantage: Why Some Businesses Are Laughing All The Way To The Bank by Michael Kerr. Of course, I have to mention Kerr’s book because he inspired this article!

How to Use Humor at Work Without Acting Like a Jerk by X (Entrepreneur). This article leads with excellent advice to “know your audience.” Some people are naturally more interested in humor – it is probably best to start by connecting with them

25 Ideas for Building Fun into Your Work Setting by Paul McGhee, PhD. I will close with this practical list of tips. Here is an example: “Have fun dress-up days.” I have seen some organizations embrace Halloween for that purpose.

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3 thoughts on “Do You Know The Difference Humor Makes At Work?

  1. Great advice! Keeping it light in the workplace definitely links to workplace morale. I write a weekly newsletter called the Weekly See 7. This week’s theme is humor in the workplace. I listed a link to this article to share your insights with my readers. Thanks for the tips. The following is a link to my newsletter if you want to take a look.