The Society For Human Resource Management (SHRM) has been great in helping prepare HR for the incoming wave of resignations. However, in their recent survey, painting “better compensation and corporate benefits” as the main reason people are considering changing jobs with 36%, and culture being only 8% is misleading.
WAKE-UP CALL: MOST PEOPLE ARE LEAVING BECAUSE YOU HAVEN’T INSPIRED THEM TO STAY — THAT’S CULTURE.
Better work/life balance: great cultures see “balance” as a verb.
Lack of recognition: great cultures go out of their way to recognize their people’s achievements, from the massive accomplishments to the little wins, no matter the size, these achievements still move the needle.
Company values don’t align: great cultures are clear about their values before an employee walks through the door, and decisions are made with those values in mind. If there isn’t an alignment, chances are, the values are just platitudes posted on an “about us” page.
Lack of strong relationships: great cultures are aware that relationships keep people engaged and energized. If leaders aren’t connecting on a human level, they’re missing out on a cultural boost that will help attract and retain top talent.
Don’t know: When people want to leave their work, but “don’t know” why, it either has to do with not liking their bosses, but they don’t want to say it, or they’re so burnt out, it includes a little bit of all of the above.
If 59% of employees are considering changing jobs because of culture, and to be honest, pay and benefits are a reflection of culture too, culture is the part of the pie that SHOULD be colored in orange.
Paying people may get them in the door, but engaging them, keeping them, and energizing them enough to refer you to other great potential employees — that’s all culture — and building culture takes a mindset shift that HAS to start from the corner office.
Learn how to make your culture one where people WANT to work. Visit my website and book a call: watercoolercomedy.org
In dozens of consulting conversations and audience surveys, one of the biggest concerns of managers, recruiters, and business owners I keep hearing is the notion that “nobody wants to go back to work.” It’s a fair notion: you’ve got positions open, no one’s applying, and you see unemployment checks flying off the shelf.
I get it.
But the reality is that human beings are wired with an innate desire to work, we’re nature’s best cooperators after all. Unfortunately, the way the system is set up — industrialized, bureaucratic, and extrinsically-focused — actually demotivates us. So people want to work, but we’re learning that people don’t want to work the same way we’ve been working.
Contrary to the image that’s in hiring managers’ heads (my own dad included), not everyone wants to sit around drinking and playing Call Of Duty all day. Even if they were, you don’t want that person working for you anyway.
The point: this time-for-money transactional system that we have in place is broken, so instead of offering a trade of employees’ time for money, create a shift of trading time for meaning. Instead of questioning the people who don’t want to come work for you, question the system that ignores what makes us human: meaningful, engaging, creative, collaborative work that intrinsically motivates us to seek out opportunities for growth.
Appeal to people’s humanity, not their wallets — anyone can offer an extra buck or two, a $500 hiring bonus, or benefits — but not anyone can give people a reason to WANT to come to work and work their asses off for you. If your biggest competitor is the government giving people an extra $300 a week, perhaps it’s time to re-evaluate the why behind people walking through your door to put their time and energy into building your business.
We’ve all seen the passive-aggressive signs in restaurant windows apologizing to customers because “everyone’s being lazy” and “no one wants to work.” I’m not sure what those business owners are trying to accomplish other than scaring away potential hires.
Do you really think people are going to see that sign, march in the door with the work ethic you’re looking for, and say “When do I start?” Try going up to someone at the bar and saying, “No one wants to date me, no matter how much I pay them.”
You’re going home alone.
I don’t have all of the answers, but I do know that if you’re waiting on the unemployed and uninterested to come to work for you because you’re willing to pay them, and no one’s showing up…
Maybe it’s you.
And I’m not claiming I know your struggles and stresses — I’ve been working alone in my office for 15 months. But I am saying, if you’re not getting the results and the people you’re looking for, maybe it’s time you take a look in the mirror. In many of these consulting conversations I have with managers complaining about the lack of a talent pool, I learn their companies don’t have recognition programs, don’t allow room for autonomy, and make decisions without first consulting with the people whom the decisions will affect most. Meaning: employees are working extra hours, extra hard without being given a voice, while being micromanaged with little more than a pat on the back. Then I find out there’s a long track record of politics at play and people don’t always get along, and that employees don’t often go above and beyond doing what’s necessary. But sure, it’s the government’s fault that people aren’t clamoring to work for you.
Maybe it’s time for you to say, “It’s not you, it’s me.” I mean, at the very least, it’ll give you a sense of accountability. I’m not blaming you, I’m offering you more control of the situation by shifting your focus to what you do control: your thoughts, words, and actions.
As a comic and a speaker, if I tell a story onstage about an ex or somebody who did something to wrong me, or I want to complain about someone else, the punchlines are always about my own perception of those other people. That way, I don’t come across as a jerk and, because I’m changing my own perceptions, I’m learning and growing so I don’t make the same mistakes again.
Do the employees you have love their jobs so much that they’re willing to recommend to their closest friends and family members to come apply?
2. Do the employees you have go above and beyond to help one another?
3. Do you celebrate their successes as a manager, get your hands dirty, and appreciate them for their hard work, even if they do something wrong, so that they come to you with gratitude, not gripes?
If your answers to any of these questions comes with a pause where you have to think about it first… it’s time to switch things up. Feel free to send out an anonymous survey asking your team what it would take for them to recommend working for you to their friends and family.
If there’s ever an information gap you can’t seem to fill, their perspectives are more valuable than yours.
And please, for all that’s sacred, don’t take it personally.
If your people are leaving work, proud to be a part of your team. Wearing your name on their sleeve, as long as their financial needs are met, they’ll work for less to work for a cause they believe in. If they aren’t, maybe it’s time to start asking them what you can do different for them to start.
Humans have this awful habit of only seeing what proves our beliefs to be true and ignoring or disputing what goes against our beliefs, and often we end up making those beliefs come to fruition, so if you believe that nobody wants to work…
why are you surprised when nobody wants to work for you?
The good news is if this article made you angry — if you felt yourself getting worked up to dispute my points about the fact that government checks are demotivating people — you’re exactly who this article is for.
You have the power to change these beliefs and start getting the people you want who are actually excited to come work for you.
So what’s one thing you can do to make work less transactional and inspire your people to start trading their time for meaning?
Who would’ve guessed that almost exactly one year ago, we’d be leaving the office to a world where work would be forever changed? Now, one year later, remote working has become widely accepted, commute times are down, people can spend more time with their families, and companies are experimenting with new ways to make remote work feel more engaging and rewarding.
We’ve reached a crossroads: COVID cases are starting to fall, the vaccine is more widely available, and organizations are implementing plans to bring their teams back to working in-person.
Except not everybody is chomping at the bit to get back to the office. As a leader, the last thing you want is for people on your team to come back to work because they feel obligated, even though they’re stressed, preferred working from home, and even worried because they live with a high-risk family member, or they’re high-risk themselves.
When employees are working from a place of obligation, stress, or fear they aren’t doing their best work, and in a world where we need our people to be creative, if they’re stressed or scared, the creative parts of their brains shut down.
It’s up to you to ease the transition back into in-person work and give your people reasons to look forward to getting back to the office. Here are six ways to do this:
1. Offer flexibility
In order to account for the fact that some of your employees will be feeling trepidation, offer the option to work from home 2–3 days per week so that the office isn’t filled to capacity every day. Be clear that as long as they maintain productivity, they can create their own schedules. Not only will this create a sense of safety and communicate that you care, it gives your team the feeling of ownership, which could have a positive impact on their productivity.
2. EXTRA Casual Friday
Working from home has led to the realization that, in many cases, working from the office can be uncomfortable. If I can be productive working from home in flannel pants, fuzzy socks, and a hoodie, why can’t I work from the office in that way? Allow your team the freedom to put the emphasis on casual in Casual Fridays (as long as it’s appropriate). For example, the Zoomsie
3. Bring home to work
Studies have shown that employees who bring their dogs to work experienced lower stress levels, higher levels of job satisfaction, and they have a more positive perception of their employer. Put some ground rules in place like sign-up sheets and conduct requirements, and watch as happiness improves with each passing pet. Soon, your team will go from saying “Good boy!” to “Good boss!”
4. Allow for mental health breaks
In case you were curious, stress levels did not decrease in the middle of a worldwide pandemic, which gives you, as a leader, a golden opportunity to lower your team’s stress. Offer them the freedom to take an extra hour a day to get some fresh air, meditate, exercise, watch funny videos, play a game, etc. As I stated earlier, stress shuts down our creativity and limits problem-solving, so if you’re worried about lost productivity, one of the best ways to get it back is to give your employees the freedom to take an extra hour so that they’re more productive when they are working.
5. Keep your door open
To make your team feel safer in the workplace, offer a listening ear whenever anyone needs it. Whether they want to offer ideas for work, address a concern, or share a personal story about their struggles through COVID, simply offering time to chat can put your team at ease. One of the most frequent complaints I get from audiences has been that leaders don’t do enough to connect on a personal level to make sure people are doing okay. Now’s your chance. We’re all going through this together, and coming together again in-person without making an effort to connect on a deeply human level is a gigantic missed opportunity.
6. Give them something to look forward to
It’s been a rough year for your employees, as they’ve all had to make sacrifices to stay productive while teaching their kids and adapting to massive societal changes. As you head back into the office, you now have a golden opportunity to show your appreciation. Help your team reframe the narrative from “I have to go back to work” to “I can’t wait to go back to work” with an exciting event where everyone is free to participate. Whether it’s a party, games, entertainment (like a customized corporate comedy experience) or a fun class, the goal is for them to count down the days until you’re creating a shared experience together, like we used to count down to our birthdays or Christmas. (For an extra helping of fun, you can even make a construction paper chain to help with the countdown.)
This pandemic has been quite the experiment in human behavior, and never before have I noticed such a steadfast, stubborn sticking to guns (no Lauren Boebert) in my life. Humans love being right, but when facts get warped so we can feel right, it’s incredibly shortsighted and can have unintended long-term effects. Political ideologies aside, the complete dearth of saying, “My bad” or “We were wrong” has led to a doubling down on making excuses, projection, and fan fiction. As flawed creatures in a flawed world, admitting mistakes is as natural to humans as having to go to the bathroom right when a movie starts.
As politicians, talking heads, and media personalities wake up every morning to prove how right they are, I want to know WHY. I mean, every time I’ve admitted the error of my ways, apologized, and laughed about my narrow-mindedness, I’ve been able to see a bigger picture, mend relationships (I keep in touch and am on good terms with all of my exes), and even solve problems. So why do so many people not see the value in rethinking their positions and admitting to being imperfect people who have imperfect information?
1. We’re Conditioned Out Of Being Wrong
Imagine yourself back in your high school algebra class. The teacher just asked for a volunteer to solve for x, but the class is eerily quiet — nary a hand-raise to be seen. Why? No one wants to get the problem wrong in front of everyone. Remember how it felt when you’d answer a question incorrectly? This conditioning is all too prevalent because getting a wrong answer or a bad grade meant consequence rather than opportunity. For example, if I got anything lower than a B-, I’d get my Nintendo 64 taken for weeks at a time.
How This Hurts Us
Being wrong is tied to negative connotations, causing us to completely miss out on the learning opportunities it presents. In fact, the National Institute Of Education in Singapore found that students who were allowed to fail performed better than those given the proper skills and close guidance. Humans have a natural desire to experiment, and with experimentation inevitably comes wrong answers. Science is founded on proving ourselves wrong over and over again until hypotheses become theories. Not facts, theories. Stigmatizing failure as we go through our formative years conditions a fear of it into us, paralyzing us into doubling down on our being wrong as actually being right, leaving learning and growing to somebody, anybody else.
2. Being Wrong Makes Us Appear “Weak”
We’ve all worked with that person who has to be right about everything, and every time they make a mistake, you roll your eyes because it’s always someone else’s fault or somehow, they “meant to do that.” Because of our conditioning behind the word ‘wrong’ and the nearly impossible standards to which we hold our leaders, we often double down that we’re right instead of asking for help or feedback for fear of appearing as “weak” or “not enough.”
How This Hurts Us
When it comes to making mistakes in a leadership position, admitting fault instead of deferring blame and “having all of the answers” actually strengthens our connection with the people around us. If asking for help or apologizing makes you feel like you’re ruining your reputation with others, know that the only reputation you’re ruining is the one where people actually want to go out of their way to help or support you.
3. Being Wrong Hurts The Self-Image We’ve Worked To Build
Not only does being wrong have an impact on how we’re perceived by others, being wrong runs contrary to the image we have for ourselves. If we have believed in something or someone, and suddenly that belief is unequivocally proven false or that person betrays our morals, not only will we double down or place blame to avoid perceiving ourselves as wrong, we’ll adapt our morals and streeeeetch to find new evidence that proves our rightness. Spend any time in a Facebook comment thread, and you’ll witness mental gymnastics that’ll make Simone Biles exclaim, “How’d she do that!?”
How This Hurts Us
Change is constant, so committing oneself to a person, idea, or ideology with no wiggle room creates an overwhelming unease brought about by cognitive dissonance, and we’ll relieve it based on our fear of being wrong — by sticking to our guns (no NRA). This is one reason why I’m such an advocate for widespread humor training: it’s a much more productive method for solving cognitive dissonance because it creates wiggle room for growth. When we paint ourselves to ourselves as “a good person” and someone else presents evidence to the contrary, it creates mental friction that can only be solved by responding one of two ways:
“Because you’re bringing evidence that proves I’m not a good person, that must make you a bad person.”
“Because you’re bringing evidence that proves I’m not a good person, I’ll admit that I was only working with the information I had, and now that I’ve learned new information I can see it from a fresh angle. Thank you for looking out for me”
Which will more likely lead to growth?
So how can we fix widespread stubbornness?
No matter how many people read this, the only real person I can impact is myself. The same goes for you. Here are three quick steps you can take when you feel that internal tension of potentially being wrong.
Reframe wrongness as an exciting opportunity to learn.
Be willing and excited to ask for help. Humans work better together with others who don’t share an identical worldview.
Leave room for new information and growth by being okay with saying things like “I don’t know,” “I might be wrong but…” and, “I’m doing the best with the information I have.”
But who knows? I might be wrong about all of that, and if that’s the case, I look forward to learning why.
When it comes to taking risks, the last hour of an all-day management retreat for your team doesn’t seem like it’d be the time or place – they’re tired, their work for the day is done, they feel the sweet release of freedom at their fingertips – when suddenly, it’s ripped away for an extra hour of training. And not just any training, stand-up comedy training.
“If looks could kill, I would’ve died right there on the spot,” recalls Steve Cody, founder and CEO of NYC-based Peppercomm.
Peppercomm is a marketing communications company that prides itself on challenging conventional wisdom when it comes to marketing, and what challenges conventional wisdom more than combining stand-up comedy and managers? Okay, maybe discipline via trial-by-combat, but comedy in the workplace is up there.
Why take such a risk? According to Cody, after performing stand-up for a few years, he began to notice that the skills he learned onstage were actually benefitting him around the office.
“My senses were sharpened by having to read the room, deal with silence, catcalls, and nerves before making a major presentation, so I said, ‘I think this is applicable to the workplace.’”
Comedy, or at the very least, laughter in the workplace, has been proven to generate results for those organizations who place high value in humor. According to a Huet & Associates study, organizations who used humor to engage employees reported shareholder returns 19% higher than their competitors. A study by market research company Ipsos found a correlation between employee retention and the sense of humor of the managers at those organizations – imagine all that time and money you’d save on recruiting and onboarding with lower turnover rates. And a study published in The Journal Of Managerial Psychology discovered a direct correlation between a supervisor’s use of humor and employee performance, engagement, collaboration skills, and satisfaction. Leaders who use humor were also perceived as better performers and more likable.
The effects of humor at work are clear, so even though Cody’s managers were initially resistant to the idea of comedy training, they didn’t take long to come around.
“You could see everybody pulling for one another,” remembers Cody, “so it became part and parcel of our training program.” Now, Peppercomm uses his outside-of-the-box, culture-building, shared experience a few times a year to train new hires or employees moving up in the organization, and they even offer the training to clients. Because of this unique cultural cornerstone, Peppercomm has a competitive edge over more serious marketing firms when it comes to attracting potential clients and hires. More than once, Cody has heard, “You made us laugh,” when closing a deal with a new client, so needless to say, his risk to introduce comedy to his team had more than paid off. Not only has it helped attract new clients, but it has also landed Peppercomm on many “Best Places To Work” lists, including Forbes, Crain’s, and Inc., which makes the firm a destination for the PR world’s creative up-and-comers.
The gamble could’ve easily backfired on Cody, but he doesn’t look at taking risks from such a doomsday, “What if it all goes wrong?” perspective. Another powerful lesson the average non-comedian can learn from stand-up is that it’s okay to fall on your face when you try something new, and this willingness to be vulnerable and honest in pursuit of a goal can serve as a catalyst for growth.
As the old adage goes: it’s about the Journey, not Steve Perry.
Okay, maybe that joke didn’t work, but I had to at least take the risk and include it. If you didn’t laugh, I’m okay with that because instead of wasting energy and speculating on “What would’ve happened if I included the joke?” I now have the answer and can learn from it… and never say that again.
OR find a new way to say it better.
OR include it as part of a longer joke.
In today’s workplace, vulnerability and the willingness to think outside-of-the-box are vital leadership skills for adapting to changing times, and when things don’t go according to plan, your team will look to you for guidance.
“I allow all of my employees to see me fail, and fail miserably,” remarks Cody.
“You’ve got to be a little more human and authentic.” But what about the idea that leaders have to be strong and have all of the answers?
In short, this perspective of leadership is outdated. With the development of virtual and AI technology disrupting the status quo of work and new challenges popping up seemingly on the hour, agility is a much more valuable leadership skill than rigidity in the modern workplace, and the first step to being agile is to come to terms with the fact that you may be wrong sometimes… and that’s okay!
Not only is it okay, it’s more than okay in today’s world. With technology speeding up the way we work, we have to hang onto our humanity in the workplace, and the best way to do that is by being open to your own imperfections and being willing to laugh about them.
“People want the truth and want to be treated as peers, which is difficult if you’re in the CEO spot. But the beauty of comedy is that it level-sets. It personifies and humanizes the CEO in a way that nothing else can.”
By taking a risk and trying something new, so much can go wrong, but if you’re open to laughing about it, not only will you be quicker to adjust, your people are more likely to have your back. According to Cody, employees expect vulnerability, humanity, and open-mindedness in their leaders.
As a comedian, if you’re willing to put yourself on the level of your audience and connect with them as an authentic human being – rather than performing by memory, or lecturing them on the way you see the world – you build trust. Once an audience trusts you, when one of your ideas doesn’t connect, they stay on board and are rooting for you to adjust and succeed with your next joke. Some comedians will badger an audience for not laughing, others will plug on in a rote, rehearsed way, but the ones who can take that bombed joke and build audience trust on a non-laugh by turning the attention to their own failure – those are the greats.
Just like performing stand-up, being a leader is rooted in being a human being first, and being a human means making mistakes.
Leaders: ask yourself, with whom would you rather work side-by-side? The person who works the same way every day, who has tall of the answers and never admits when they’re wrong? Or the person who is willing to try new things, who has questions and admits that they don’t have all of the answers, and is sometimes willing to laugh at themselves?
Be the leader you’d rather work with – that’s who your employees need you to be.
According to Cody, “The companies and leaders that’ll come out of this [pandemic] with the most success are the ones who show that they care. You need to let [your employees] know that it’s okay to not be okay.”
With this leadership mindset, you have permission to present your wild, outside-of-the-box idea to your team, and even if it fails miserably, remember, that’s what makes all of us human.
Now, more than ever, it is vital to laugh when it comes to work. Y’know… that thing we spend a majority of our lives doing and stressing about. With the seismic shift in what it means to work brought about by the pandemic (among other changes), refusing to allow humor to become a vital part of your workplace’s culture will not only impact happiness, it will hamper creativity, productivity, and the bottom line. Because using humor is not typically a behavior associated with leadership – or even the workplace – here are twelve guidelines for making your workplace more effective with humor.
*Note: Each workplace operates differently, containing its own unique cast of characters, policies, and culture, so by seeing these steps as guidelines for dealing with adversity and uncertainty, and not hard rules, you can adapt them to your own circumstances.
Step 1: Lean Into It
Be open to the fact that anything can be funny. No matter what situation you’re in, what difficult person you’re dealing with, or how hopeless you feel, someone out there has had it worse and been able to laugh. If 100 people heard your story, there would be 100 different perspectives, and by simply saying, “This is funny,” it creates a shift in yours.
Step 2: Start From Where You Are
Look around you and take note of everything that’s happening. What do you see? What’s going on? What are your thoughts? How do your thoughts make you feel? What actions are you taking? Are things going as planned? If not, how are they being addressed? What is and isn’t working? What are people saying? What do you have control over? What do you not? What skills, talents, and tools do you have at your disposal? Why so many questions? Because asking yourself questions that force you to provide objective answers can lead you to new solutions.
Step 3: Know From Whence You Came
What victories have you had in the past? How have you grown? How did you respond to defeats? Are there cringeworthy moments? Regrets? Things you wish you had done? Remember, you have no control over the past, but you do have control over your perspective of it and the actions you take based on that.
Step 4: Know Where You Want To Go And Why
Before starting anything, you need a goal and a why. For example, the intent of every comedian should be to leave their audience feeling better than they were when they arrived. As a leader, shouldn’t this be your goal too? In this case, your “audience” includes your employees, coworkers, customers, and clients, and inspiring positive emotions based on your interactions not only makes both of you feel better, it provides an energy boost that will have you doing better too.
Step 5: Be Authentic
Watching someone try to be funny is so painful because they’re trying to get a reaction, rather than sharing something that actually made them laugh. Don’t be that guy. If it isn’t funny to you, it’s going to be even less funny to others. Be true to yourself – if you’re not typically the person who makes wisecracks, people will start giving you funny looks and wondering if you’re okay. You don’t have to use humor to appreciate the humor in a situation.
Step 6: Provide A Safe Space For Creativity And Discovery
If you want your creativity to flourish when it comes to problem-solving, you gotta give it the space to do so. Instead of shooting down your own ideas before you have a chance to explore them by telling yourself “There’s no way this works,” enter the creative space by assuming it will work, use that as your starting point, and work backwards.
Step 7: Use “Yes, And…” As Your Core Collaborative Tool
One of the best ways for overcoming creative blockage is by accepting ideas as true and amazing and then adding to them – whether they’re your own ideas or someone else’s. Even if it’s a bad idea, responding with a resounding acceptance and then adding to it has myriad benefits, the chief of which is emotional connection. There’s plenty of time to get analytical, but that has no place in the idea stage of a project.
Step 8: Know Your Audience
Who are you using humor in front of? Not all humor works for all people, so adapt it to your coworkers, clients, or your audience. What new idea do you have and who are you presenting it to? Always read the room and adapt accordingly. There’s always a way to get a message across more effectively, and being aware of how you’re packaging that message for its intended audience is vital to that message’s success.
Step 9: Use Humor To Uplift
Like point 4 mentioned, your intent serves as a guide. Never demean, ridicule, isolate, punch down on, or be excessively sarcastic toward others in an effort to be funny. You want to ease tension, inspire creativity, and build bonds, and any form of humor that leaves people feeling bad for you or themselves is not welcome. (Additional tip: there are times when you or someone else may unintentionally cross the line. If it’s someone else, appreciate their efforts, and ask them questions where they come up with answers to guide themselves toward more uplifting forms of humor. If it’s you, see the following step.)
Step 10: Laugh At Yourself
No one’s perfect. You’re a human being who makes mistakes, but that’s actually a good thing: mistakes are how you learn and grow. Being steadfast and stubborn in your quest to always be right and have the answers is how you stay stagnant. The quicker you laugh, the quicker you learn, the quicker you course correct, and the more you deliver the subconscious message to others that it’s okay to mess up… as long as growth is the result. There’s a reason my programs are filled with stories about falling on my face and learning from it: the audience sees themselves, and it creates connection and common ground.
Step 11: Create Shared Experiences
Shared laughter creates an instant bond between people, whether strangers, friends and family, or bitter enemies. The more immersive, involved, and inclusive an experience is, the more you connect people. Anyone can reap the benefits of humor, and doing it as a group is a way to speed up the process, see one another as individuals instead of job titles and actions, and create a shared story, whether virtually or in person.
Step 12: Delegate
This is the step for those of you who consider yourselves more analytical than creative – you don’t have to be funny to use humor. By leaning into those who are or, at the very least, to those who are more creative or upbeat, you contribute in the way that suits you best by leaning into the talents of others. Yeah, giving up control to others is scary, but if you consistently follow the above 11 steps, even if it doesn’t go as planned, not only do you have the tools to adapt and respond, but you’ve built a culture where others do too.
We could all use a laugh right now. If you’re able to implant the idea that work – the place where people spend a significant chunk of their time – is a place where they can actually enjoy themselves, laugh, and accomplish tasks in new ways, you’ve set yourself apart from a normal that has dragged down people’s potential too long.
If your team is struggling with uncertainty, stress, overwhelm, virtual fatigue, and pessimism, chances are good that engagement levels are down, meaning fewer ideas, less collaboration, and lower returns. Effectively incorporating humor into your culture solves these problems, and I can help. Schedule a free conversation today, and we’ll team up to come up with a plan to transform your team into one that is more creative, effective, and equipped to deal with adversity and uncertainty.
What if everything — and I mean everything — that could go wrong did go wrong? When rolling out a new policy, adapting to new rules and regulations, or getting used to a new executive, there is bound to be just a little bit of fear. As we limp into 2021 after a 2020 that nobody — except for maybe a tiny bat in China who dreamed of world domination — saw coming, there’s going to be some battle-weary soldiers in the office, so when you announce another change, resistance will inevitably kick in.
Don’t resist the resistance unless you want more resistance. Instead, embrace it.
In 2014, online retailer Zappos decided to shift their management model to a holacracy, a management model where the traditional functions of managers are eliminated and job titles are replaced by roles that individuals acquire. The traditional pyramid of hierarchy is replaced by, according to Business Insider:
A series of “circles” dedicated to specific functions like marketing and customer relations.
It’s centered around self-management and requires employees to have high levels of engagement, meaning, and organizational buy-in to work. Say what you will about the management model, what I’m more interested in is how the employees and executives at Zappos, as well as outside experts, responded to such a seismic shift.
How did the employees respond?
When former CEO Tony Hsieh sent out a memo asking for full employee commitment to the new system, 18% of the company chose to take their severance packages. Yikes.
How did outside experts respond?
In the never-ending quest to prove that new ideas don’t work, publications like HBR, Inc, and Business Insider were quick to draw attention to the mass exodus from Zappos.
How did Zappos executives respond?
They made a video spoofing the idea of a holacracy. You read that right: Hseih starred in an employee-produced video where he falls asleep on the couch, and wakes up in a dream where the company has fallen into the chaos of anarchy, like the press predicted:
This video was a fun, outside-of-the-box way of communicating to the remaining employees that even if the new management style didn’t work, it could always be worse. Though Zappos has gradually transitioned away from holacracy, the switch didn’t involve panic or a coup like the video portrays, and the company has maintained a positive, creative workplace culture that consistently shows up on best-places-to-work lists.
So what was the point of the video?
It served three purposes:
It allowed for employees to work together in a creative setting, side-by-side with the CEO and one another, on a fun project they could look back on, be proud of, and share with family and friends that “My job and my boss are pretty cool.” Be honest: would your boss take part in a video spoofing his own decisions?
It gave employees a shot of perspective. When faced head-on with change, humans have a bad habit of gravitating to worst-case scenario situations. One way to ease this stress is to take that worst-case scenario and manifest it in the form of a fun project like this that delivers the subconscious message, “Relax — that worst-case scenario is not only implausible, it’s kind of silly.” Using humor in this way is a great tool for level-setting perspectives, so instead of stress and fear, people begin asking the question, “What can we do next?”
It delivered a message to outsiders: this is a fun and engaging place to work. Imagine you’re looking for a job and you’re deciding between the “business-as-usual” company and the “we don’t take ourselves seriously” company. Though the former is consistent and you’ll feel safe and secure, the latter is one of the biggest online retailers in the world because it takes risks, has fun, and is willing to take an occasional L. Would you rather work at a company that takes work seriously, takes its customers seriously, and takes itself seriously, or a company that takes its work and customers seriously, but doesn’t take itself seriously.
If you’re a leader, making a short video to poke fun at your own ideas is one way to help your team want to get on board with new ideas, instead of making them feel like they have to get on board. Added bonus: the video that Zappos made cost zero dollars and was put together exclusively by team members. Sure, the editing, sound, and writing isn’t award-worthy, but it’s okay because the people who made it aren’t professionals. Because of the fundamental shift of workplaces we experienced in 2020, we need to find new ways to generate buy-in from our teams, and making a video where you communicate that “Yeah, this could go wrong, but with you by my side, we can make this thing work… and if it doesn’t, then at least it won’t be as bad as what happens in this video,” is just one way of many to do it.
Note: I wrote this in response to the loss of a visionary risk taker and leader whose legacy will live on in all those he inspired through working for him, reading his book, watching his interviews, and so on. If more leaders modeled their behaviors after Tony Hsieh, we’d fundamentally change the meaning of what it means to “work:”
“I think when people say they dread going into work on Monday morning, it’s because they know they are leaving a piece of themselves at home. Why not see what happens when you challenge your employees to bring all of their talents to their job and reward them not for doing it just like everyone else, but for pushing the envelope, being adventurous, creative, and open-minded, and trying new things?” — Tony Hsieh
In my years of preaching the importance of humor in the workplace, I’ve been met with resistance because just as so much can go right, so much can go wrong. The goal of using humor is to uplift, add value, break the tension, release stress, and bring people together, but if it isn’t done right, humor can have the opposite effect. Here are three outcomes of using humor in the workplace that you want to avoid:
If you’re going through the loss of a loved one or you’ve been working hard all day and need respite, humor provides a welcome distraction and a jolt of perspective. If you can feel the tension rising between people, sometimes a well-timed one-liner or acknowledgement of incongruity can release that tension instantly. Humor is a fantastic tool when the goal is added perspective or tension release. If you’re using humor as a distraction or if you’re doing it all. the. time… you may be distracting yourself from the bigger picture. Humor is a means to an end, not the end itself, so if you’re noticing an incongruity — say there’s a blatant disregard for diversity — cracking a joke about it and not doing anything can be just as toxic as being openly bigoted. Note the problem, laugh about the fact that it’s a problem and your current actions aren’t solving it, then do something about it by trying something new.
Incorporating humor as a cornerstone of your culture may not connect with all audiences — and that’s okay. When people would rather work in serious mode, the last thing you want to do is form a roving band of jesters poking fun at those who won’t join in, or shutting off those who aren’t as funny. People are socially awkward, so if someone who was nervous about contributing humor fears being laughed at instead of laughed with, he or she will feel like an outsider. Even if their quip isn’t funny, laugh politely and avoid the desire to talk about that person once they’re out of earshot. Start from a place of appreciation, because even if that other person without a funny bone in their body feels welcome, your inclusivity will lead to them eventually surprising you with a perspective that has everyone rolling.
If humor is at the expense of someone, or it appears as an exclusive club to your less-funny employees, the benefits of it are nullified. Though witty takedowns and scathing comebacks are commonplace in comedy clubs, “comedian owns heckler” videos, and Comedy Central Roasts, chances are good your employees aren’t professional comedians, so replicating this style of humor is often toxic at work.
Humor at work is meant to be a means-to-an-end, inclusive, unifying, and uplifting. If the results are anything other than these three things, it’s time to course correct.
If you were to go through my Twitter and Facebook feeds from ten years ago, not only would you notice how terrible my joke-writing was:
“If ranch dressing is made in a home with more than 1 floor, does that automatically make it house dressing?”
“Was walking by #Fraternity Row today and saw Kappa Kappa Kappa wasn’t one of them. Baffling.” — Why did I hashtag fraternity?
“Okay, a grim reaper costume wasn’t the best costume idea for our weekly visit to grandpa in hospice.” — I actually tagged Jimmy Fallon in this one, so I must’ve thought, “Yeah, this is the tweet that makes me famous.”
You’d also notice that I harbored completely different opinions about the world than I’ve shared recently on social media:
“Just saw a girl on campus wearing leather pants. the only time leather pants look good is never. No matter who u are,” — I emphatically retract this statement. Especially using “u” instead of the actual word.
“I LOVE carpet! Makes floors so much more tolerable.” — I live in a house that’s 90% hardwood floors and I LOVE it. It’s so much better for my tap dancing career.
“Mitt Romney keeps #poking me on Facebook. He’s got my #vote.” — I absolutely voted for Mitt in 2012, and it wasn’t because of all of the poking. At the time I was a staunch Republican, and there was nothing you could say to convince me otherwise.
Since then, I’ve gone back and deleted insensitive tweets — not to avoid one of my 225 raving fans seeing it and “cancelling” me, but because I’ve grown as a person and I actually care about people, so I’d rather not hurt anyone. Back then, I only cared about trying to be funny. I thought crossing the line when it came to jokes was the secret to funny, and if you were hurt, then you were being too sensitive. As “cancel culture” became more and more prevalent, I continued getting offended at other people’s offense until I came to the realization that if I want to make people feel good, I probably shouldn’t be writing jokes to offend them. Not only that, but I should probably learn to write better jokes.
Instead of saying, “I’m right, fuck off,” I opened myself up to new opinions, was able to see a bigger picture, and I’m now a much better comedy writer — not to mention I’m way happier because of it.
Unfortunately, there are plenty of people who don’t see conflicting opinions as opportunities for growth, but as personal attacks. The same goes for their past mistakes or being presented with new information that challenges their beliefs. It isn’t their fault — we’re wired to assign fixed orientations to objects, events, and ideas, so that when we’re taught to believe something, it becomes part of the core of who we are. In actuality, if our beliefs were more flexible, we’d be able to see a bigger picture, make more informed decisions, and have a higher chance of success and happiness. If we can simply be open to the idea that we may be wrong, we open ourselves up to unlimited possibilities.
The world is incredibly dynamic, and in order to keep up, we have to keep our minds agile and open to the potential of new thoughts, perspectives, and ideas.
Here are two simple self-talk techniques that psychologists recommend for resetting your perspective and opening yourself up to new possibility:
1. Say “for now”
Once my parents stopped telling me when to go to bed, I would stay up as late as possible and sleep until noon or later. I’d tell myself, “I’m a night owl” and “I’m not a morning person,” so every night, I’d find excuses as to why I had to stay up. Even on nights before I had to wake up early for an appointment, a meeting, or a speaking gig, I’d stay up until 3 AM, wake up at 7, wonder why I was tired, and be irritable the rest of the day. Then one day last year, I started saying, “I’m a night owl, for now,” and about a month into the pandemic this year, I began to go to bed before 2 AM and wake up before 8 AM. Now, it’s a daily habit, I’m way more productive, and I eat breakfast when it’s socially acceptable to eat breakfast. All it takes is the repetition of a simple, foreboding “for now,” to open your brain to the possibility of change, and you’ll be in bed by midnight and up before the sun comes up before you know it.
2. Ask “What else could be true?”
Over the last couple of days, my girlfriend has snapped at me over the littlest things: I asked a question during an unsolved mystery documentary about said documentary, I asked if she had taken the dog for a walk at all during the day, since he was bothering me to go outside. At first, all I wanted to do was focus on how irrational her yelling was, but once I pulled myself from the situation and asked “What else could be true?” I began to see a bigger picture. “What else could be true? Well first, asking questions about the same movie we’ve both been watching is annoying. Just watch the goddamn movie and let that answer your questions, David.” But by asking this question, I remembered that her job has been causing stress to the the point of anxiety, and I know that when I’m stressed, I get angry at the littlest things. Things that are no more responsible for my anxiety than my bed is responsible for the 3 hours of sleep I got after going to bed at 4 and waking up at 7. Because of this simple form of self-assessment, I avoided snapping back, I laughed to myself about my limiting thoughts, and now things are back to normal. (It also helps when you make her coffee and a breakfast sandwich).
Today, tonight during the presidential debate, or next week as you’re scrolling through the madness of social media, be open to expanding your perspective. Don’t be married to your ideas and stances, so that when you’re presented with new information or ideas, you stand in the way of your own growth. Heck, in ten years, I may use this blog post as an example for how much I’ll have changed, but what I do know for a fact is that I will always be open to applying new ideas to what I think I know. Also, don’t judge me on my joke writing from 2020… 2030 will be my year.
Toxic workplaces: we’ve all worked somewhere that seemed to drain our happiness, but when the place is a nationally televised talk show featuring a personality with a message of “Be kind,” it hits different.
For those who weren’t aware of the workplace toxicity reports on Ellen, here’s a quick refresher:
One current employee and 10 former staffers claimed they endured a culture of racism, fear and intimidation. They blamed senior managers on the show for allowing the behavior.
The allegations in the Buzzfeed report included former employees saying they were fired for taking time off for medical leave or bereavement. — Source: Today.com
36 former employees of the show reported “handsy” behavior, asking for sexual favors, and groping by multiple producers and higher-ups at “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.” — Source: Insider.com
This coupled with comedian Kevin T. Porter’s viral tweet thread requesting stories about Ellen being mean, it seemed as though the world was piling on Ellen DeGeneres, and rightfully so. It’s one thing to run a toxic workplace environment, it’s quite another to run a toxic workplace environment while asking your audience to be kind, which is why the stories got so much traction and #cancelellen was trending.
Here are six (plus one) lessons I learned while watching Ellen apologize.
Lesson 1: When confronted with reports of a toxic work environment, address it immediately
When Ellen returned today, she was expected to address the elephant in the room, and she did, but the Buzzfeed report was released in July, it’s now two months later. Imagine your workplace’s environment being so negative that employees reported it to your local news organization, then you disappear into your office for two months before addressing it publicly. Whether you’re the culprit of the mistreatment of others or not, it’s your job to address criticisms and complaints as though you’re the perpetrator. You set the tone. Even if you don’t have all of the answers, other people are counting on you to say admit that, and assure them with your words and actions that you’re actively pursuing a solution. I live by the quote, “This wasn’t my fault, but it’s my responsibility now,” and if you’re a leader, you should too. It gives you power, shows you’re willing to shoulder the burden of responsibility, and gives people the courage to come to you if something is stopping them from doing their jobs to their best of their abilities. During her statement, Ellen admitted to fumbling the responsibility that comes with her power — a step in the right direction.
Lesson 2: Be open to vulnerability
“Being known as ‘The Be Kind Lady’ is a tricky position to be in. So let me give you some advice out there: if anybody’s thinking of changing their title or giving yourself a nickname, do not go with ‘The Be Kind Lady.’” — Ellen DeGeneres
In a position of power, it is easy to take ourselves too seriously in order to maintain an air of confidence and control. If you make a mistake and you’re looking for forgiveness from your team, your customers, or your community, it is incredibly helpful to show your human side. We all make mistakes, and admitting that is a huge step in winning back the trust of others. By admitting that she’s not always kind, that she gets sad, mad, anxious, frustrated, and impatient, and that she’s a work in progress, Ellen delivers the message that at least she has some self-awareness — a fantastic starting point.
Lesson 3: Use humor without minimizing the situation
To open her monologue, Ellen broke the ice with a little bit of humor:
“How was everybody’s summer? Good? Mine was great!”
Then, when accepting responsibility, she did it again:
“This is the Ellen DeGeneres show, I am Ellen DeGeneres. My name is there. My name is there. My name is… on underwear.”
Some may assert that this is minimizing some of these serious allegations, but the humor is well-placed, and is mostly targeted toward herself. Though not all apologies and course corrections need a dose of humor, be sure to use it to point out your own flaws, mistakes, and vulnerabilities, but also be sure to use it as a springboard or stepping stone toward making changes.
Lesson 4: Offer gratitude openly
Though I wish she would’ve spent more time showing gratitude toward her employees, Ellen at least made mention of the people who allow her to do what she does best: make people laugh. As a leader, we need to do this every day and as much as possible, hence the italics for emphasis. We cannot reach our full potential without the contributions of others, and to help them reach their potential, be vocal about pointing out the positive impacts they have on your day, whether in public, or 1-on-1.
Lesson 5: Communicate a vision
When offering regret, admitting to mistakes, and asking for forgiveness, be sure to communicate that you’re committed to your original why. If you are mistreating employees, putting profits over people, and allowing hate in your workplace, you’ve lost your vision. When you ask yourself why your organization exists, the answer is always to serve people, and those people especially include your employees.
Lesson 6: Commit to change
“I still want to be the one hour a day that people can go to escape and laugh. I want to continue to help all the people that we help every day.” — Ellen DeGeneres
From this quote, for example, Ellen and her employees will know if she is actually committed to her vision because if they don’t feel going to work is an escape. If they don’t laugh while they’re at work, then it’s much harder to bring those things to their viewers. If your vision at your organization is to help your community, that should be the first thing on your mind when an employee is falling short of your expectations. If your actions don’t match your words, then your apology means nothing and you’ve learned nothing. We all make mistakes, but the only way to regain trust and show that you’ve grown is to act on your words.
Bonus Lesson: Follow up
I would love to see Ellen deliver a follow-up monologue stating all of the ways the working conditions have improved. Transparency is key here. If you want to mean what you say, push yourself to give updates on all of the changes you’ve made and ask for honest feedback. When people come to you with ideas, even if it seems like they’re attacking or complaining, keep in mind that they’re doing it because they want you to be better, which makes them better too. Be open to asking for help if you need it and you feel you aren’t keeping your word. Ellen’s latest stand-up special is called Relatable, and one of the most relatable things she, and you, can do as a leader is to be a vulnerable and flawed human being who needs reminders to “be kind.”