How to be funny at work
Thursday, March 15, 2018
Laughing releases stress, increases productivity and supports team-building. On the other hand, a failed attempt at humor can increase tension, undermine motivation and decrease engagement.
Most of us determined long ago using humor as a workplace tool was not worth the risk. But what if you had an HR-approved method for being funny? Here are a few tips for being appropriately funny at work.
Monday mornings and Friday afternoons envelop a collective understanding in office environments. Early morning on a Monday is an understandable time to be cranky, while late on Friday is normally marked with Christmas Eve-type joy. These are great times to inject a little humor, particularly as it relates to the time of day.
In her witty article "Leading with Humor" for Harvard Business Review, Alison Beard reviews the research related to workplace humor and notes that using humor related to shared experiences reinforces the bond among those employees. She points to this recommendation from The Humor Code, by Peter McGraw: "Good comedy is a conspiracy. Create an in-group."
Similarly, collective experiences when people are tense — like working late, facing a deadline or after meeting a tough client — create an "in-group" and are great opportunities to use humor. The shared, external experience to which the people involved can relate creates a tie between them. Tap into that unspoken bond to create a shared moment of fun.
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Just as there are better times to be funny, there are also better locations.
For example, breakrooms are like a little oasis from work. Employees expect a lighter atmosphere there and are more open to humor. Conversely, it is not great to be laughing alone in your office, behind closed doors with select colleagues or on the phone where you can be overheard.
Finally, note that delivering a joke is like a miniature performance, and as such the fundamental rule of entertainment applies: know your audience. Joking with peers is safer than joking with a boss.
As a leader, joking with the team can help inspire confidence and camaraderie, but it is risky. According to research noted in this article from The Wall Street Journal, while subordinates may feel like leaders who tell jokes are more confident and competent, it is easy for them to overdo it and ultimately undermine their authority. Similarly, making a joke about yourself may seem harmless to everyone else and therefore safe, but it can undermine the confidence a team has in its leader.
The bottom line is it can be as beneficial as it is dangerous to joke at work. In this article, "30 Benefits of Humor at Work," Andrew Tarvin provides a fantastic summary of the research, key points and positive effect.
In addition to the previously mentioned benefits, humor can reduce status differentials, absenteeism and conflict. It also strengthens the connections, the immune system and profits. For those of us who enjoy complicated problems or challenging issues, humor is an investment worth the risk.
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