Photo courtesy of peter burge on Flickr
Humor can be a powerful tool in the workplace. Dr. David Abramis at Cal State Long Beach has studied fun in the workplace for years and found that humor on the job can enhance creativity, increase productivity and improve working relationships. Plus people, who have fun at work have fewer absentee, late and sick days compared to those employees who don’t embrace humor at work.
However, not all humor is created equal. Research has shown that there is a distinct difference in the benefits of appropriate and inappropriate humor. Inappropriate humor does not have the same positive physiological effects on one’s body and mind and it does not add value to the work environment. So how do you take advantage of all that humor has to offer without being inappropriate?
First, let’s look at what makes humor inappropriate. Typically when humor falls into one of these categories it will be considered inappropriate:
Inappropriate Subject Matter: This can include humor about sensitive topics like a person’s appearance, sexuality, weight, intelligence or other personal characteristics.
Inappropriate Target: Humor should poke fun at situations, not people and should not be used to mask complaints or frustrations about the workplace or coworkers.
Inappropriate Time: Some situations are meant to be serious and trying to lighten the moment with humor can come across badly. For example, trying your witty one-liners while firing someone is not the appropriate time. Having fun should always make other people feel good. Humor also should not disrupt normal day-to-day work. Humor in the workplace should be in addition to or outside of productive work.
Realize people’s senses of humor are unique, just like their taste buds. While laughter is universal, humor is not; it varies from person to person. Generally speaking, a person who has used inappropriate humor at work, has just simply made the mistake of satisfying their own tastes rather than considering their audience and the timing of their comment or action. You don’t need to remove their funny bone, rather just fine-tune it.
If someone says or does something inappropriate the key is to be willing to let them know that that type of humor makes you uncomfortable and then educate the person about humor, when it’s best to avoid it and its purpose in the workplace. To determine if your workplace humor is appropriate ask yourself if the goal is to reduce stress, lighten the mood, uplift someone, bring people together through commonalities or to provide a quick break so people can be refreshed and refocused on a task. If you can answer “yes” to these questions, you may be on the right path to having fun at work.
Our challenge once we confront inappropriate humor is to find ways to interject appropriate humor and fun into our jobs without hurting others or undermining the company. When used appropriately, humor can work for you.
So what is the most effective humor at work? Humor doesn’t just mean comedy, it can include anything that causes amusement and is different from the norm. Appropriate humor can include telling jokes, but it can also include starting your meeting by having everyone answer an interesting question or by finding out what type of Serengeti animal they are. (Go to http://www.whatanimalami.com/ to see what animal personality you end up with.)
Another example of interjecting humor into the workplace is to create a “Fun Factor Box” where employees submit fun activities they’d like to do during the work week. Pick one suggestion each month and put it into action. For more ideas read this article on “25 Ways of Making Work Fun.”
We don’t need less humor at work; we just need to make sure it’s the kind of humor that makes hard tasks easier, collaborations fun, relieves boredom and burnout and certainly makes the workdays go faster. Look for humor and enjoy each day. As Mark Twain once said, “the human race has only one really effective weapon and that is laughter.”
As a supervisor, you can bring out that ability to laugh and start to see your employees eager to return to work each day.
Dawn is an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) Trainer with The Village Business Institute. She has a Bachelors of Business Administration with a focus on Human Resource Management from the University of Minnesota Duluth. She also has her Professional Human Resource Certification through the Human Resource Certification Institute. Dawn draws on over eight years of experience developing and facilitating training to a variety of organizations and diverse groups. She brings energy to the programs she delivers and encouragement to the individuals and organizations she serves. She focuses on equipping individuals to take actions that lead to extraordinary transformations in their personal and professional lives.