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.
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.”
Masks are now mandatory at your workplace and not everyone’s happy about it.
Regardless of where you stand on wearing a mask, the reality is that in many cases, you’re legally mandated to wear one in public, unless you’re eating or drinking, or face the consequences. It’s a minuscule disruption of the daily status quo and will have the same impact on someone’s ability to do their job as adding a new coat of paint to the office walls. Somehow, however, it has become a national talking point that has led to verbal altercations, assault, and even murder.
And murder has a tendency to lower morale.
As a leader, you have so much on your plate, and now employees are complaining about having to wear a mask while they work, while others are complaining about their coworkers who refuse to wear one.
What do you do? Here are some dos and don’ts for making sure the people in your organization are compliant while maintaining morale:
Do: Remember Human Behavior
Throughout all of history, when confronted with new ideas policies, or technology, people have a bad habit of resisting change.
You purchase new technology that’ll make their jobs easier: “I don’t want to learn this. I’m doing just fine with the technology I have.” You introduce a new policy that’ll boost morale: “That’s not the way we’ve always done it.” You hire new managers: “I’ve been here longer! They have no idea what they’re doing!” It seems like you can never win.
The goal here is to make them comfortable with the uncomfortable, and in this case, the uncomfortable is wearing a thin piece of cloth over their faces.
Don’t: Judge Or Allow Judgment Thinking
Right, wrong, good, bad, stupid, smart – it doesn’t matter how people judge the mask wearing policies. You’ll have people on all sides of the spectrum, which is a beautiful thing, but that’s not what’s important here. Focusing on people’s opinions on mask wearing and the effects of mask wearing are inconsequential to the results you are looking for.
Do: Emphasize Opportunity Thinking
Let’s just get this out of the way: mask-wearing is going to be a part of our culture for the foreseeable future, so the best option here is to just lean into it. Instead of offering our opinions based on what already is, it’s more engaging and productive to focus on how it’s an opportunity to build your brand, have fun, incorporate the mask into your work, or lean into the creativity of your coworkers. When we see something as an opportunity, there is no limit to its potential. When we see something as good, bad, etc., we create a closed-ended situation.
Don’t: Close Your Door To Complaints
Though judgment thinking isn’t as productive as opportunity thinking, it’s human nature to judge and focus on what’s wrong. If you close your door to complaints, this is a subconscious message that your door will be closed to ideas too. Open up a line of communication and guide the complainers and those who can’t stop thinking about how much this sucks away from their position toward action.
Do: Clearly Communicate That You’re On Their Side
Communicate the fact that you want them to be able to work to the best of their ability and be happy while they’re doing it. Set a hard line by saying something like, “There’s nothing I can do about mask-wearing, but I’m willing to help you find ways to make the most of this situation.” Now listen to them without responding, other than asking clarifying questions when necessary. Through the power of asking questions, guide them to the realization that this is an opportunity for them to creatively contribute to something they care about. If they have ideas, don’t shoot them down. Let them work the idea through, and if it isn’t a solid or actionable idea yet, give them the option to work it out and come back to you. The important thing here is to make sure these people feel heard and that you’re not just smiling and nodding so they leave you alone.
Do: Lean Into The Talent Of Your People To Create A Shared Experience
If you must mask, mask in style. See if you can get the okay from higher-ups to allow a mask-designing contest, where your resident artists, comedians, or fashion designers can create a mask that’s fun, fabulous, fits with the culture, or all three. This creates a shared, collaborative experience that reminds everyone, “We’re in this together.”
Many of my posts begin with anecdotes about how I once was reprimanded for “acting out.” Admittedly, it’s a great starting point because through this discipline, I realized many of the absurd, stuffy, and unnatural standards humans are meant to abide by. Society states that we must behave a certain way, or else we’ll be treated differently, and God forbid we let down other people’s expectations of us (insert eye roll emoji). Remember being told to “ACT YOUR AGE” as a kid? What I wouldn’t give up to be told to “ACT LIKE A KID” again. Why? Human beings have an innate desire to explore, try new things, and make discoveries, and there is no better time in our lives to do this than when we’re children. Our curiosity peaks when we’re young because the older we get, the more we are told by adults to “stop acting so childish.” The unintended result of this is that we lose our biological desire to explore for fear of consequence. This creates a pattern of stagnation that stifles our childlike wonder to a place that makes us uncomfortable with new ideas.
Regaining this quality is vital in the workplace today. With so many jobs being outsourced to machines, simply working to color inside the lines and meet quotas is becoming an outdated way to work. Modern companies need their teams to think outside of the box, but our childhood conditioning taps us on the shoulder to tell us not to rock the boat for fear of consequence, and too many people listen.
It’s up to you to make the conscious decision to revisit what makes you human. There’s a reason when you would fall as a kid, you would get back up and get right back to what you were doing – it’s our natural instinct. Now, with fear of failure instilled into our psyches by our parents, teachers, and bosses, we’re far less likely to try that new way of doing things that may be the solution to whatever challenges we’re facing. One strategy I use as a comedian to add depth to a joke is to ask myself:
“What would a child think about this?”
“What would a child do in this situation?”
I’m not advocating you act with reckless abandon and use the airplane seat in front of you as a punching bag, but I am advocating you:
Try one new way of doing a rote task at work this week
If it doesn’t work, take stock of what worked and what didn’t
Adapt your gameplan
Try the updated way of doing things
In hindsight, one of the worst things you can do is “act your age.” Because deep down, no matter how old you are, you are a child that needs to explore your world and find new ways to do things that are exciting, interesting, and fun. How can you use this natural curiosity to make your workday better?
In school, I took more than my fair share of trips to detention and, as a result, received a fair share of admonishment from my parents after coming home with notes from teachers.
“You don’t want to be the class clown, do you?”
“You don’t need to talk out in class – you have a D in math.”
“Stop trying to be funny all the time. It’s not going to get you anywhere”
They also used to tell me that I couldn’t possibly make a living playing video games while 176 gamers are out there mashing buttons for six figure salaries (esportsearnings.com).
Now that I’ve fully embraced my role as class clown, I’m here to spread the good news: if you’re the class clown, KEEP GOING.
And if you’re a manager who has a class clown on your hands, LEAN INTO IT.
I’m not saying to head to your local open mic and try your hand at stand-up comedy (unless you really want to), but I am saying that there are benefits to being the class clown in the workplace. Whether you’re the class clown or you’re in a leadership position and trying to figure out what to do about the class clown in your workplace, lean into the laughs. Don’t worry, there are ways to utilize it as a tool to improve your culture. According to a study reported in The International Journal of Humor Research, office jokers were considered invaluable team members by coworkers and managers. Here are 4 reasons why:
1. They provide stress relief
Have you ever had a stressful day at work where it seemed like everything was going wrong when suddenly, a beautiful angel came swooping into your office and made you laugh so hard you forgot you were having a terrible day? Sometimes, it’s just what the doctor ordered, and stifling your resident joker’s ability to do this can be harmful for office morale. A quick shot of dopamine in the form of a joke making light of the day can offset some of the demoralizing effects of stress and give us a jolt of perspective.
2. They’re integral in building a strong culture
So you say you want to attract and retain the best and brightest applicants. In various surveys and polls, millennials would rather work somewhere where their work carries meaning and allows room for creativity over a company that just pays well. In a world where companies are competing with, not only their competitors down the street, but on the other side of the country to hire the best talent, culture plays a vital role. If potential hires can see that you not only allow your people to showcase their creativity and humor, but you embrace it, they’re more likely to be excited about your potential partnership. As an added bonus, office jokers naturally put fun twists into stories about the company, thus playing a key role in keeping the corporate history alive.
3. They question authority without subverting it
As a manager, life becomes easier when you give someone a task and they respond, “Yes, right away!” But sometimes, believe it or not, your employees may have a better idea for how things could be done since they have a different perspective of their jobs than you. For many managers, the thought of employees not being subservient to every request and demand can be scary, but fear not, because questions can often bring better answers and ideas than your people blindly nodding along with everything you say. You don’t want blatant insubordination, but there’s a difference between that and your office joker poking holes in the legitimacy of your commands. Along with this openness, you must be vigilant about being open to new ideas. If you’re going to be open to your authority being questioned, you better make it clear that:
those who question you damn sure better have a new idea that improves upon yours
you have a forum for employees and coworkers to come to you with ideas and you LISTEN and try to improve upon them when necessary
otherwise, people will have trouble taking you seriously.
4. They push boundaries
Bringing humor into a professional setting carries with it many risks, but in today’s world of rapid and continuous expansion, taking risks is one of the most important actions for keeping your organization ahead of the curve. When you embrace office jokers, especially when you’re comfortable with their challenges, this signals to the rest of the office that you’ve got an open mind when they try new things, which is a natural human tendency. With risks come failure, which is where your leadership is most important. When your people fall short with their new ideas, it’s up to you to help them discover new ways to course correct by utilizing objective facts – not subjective emotions – from which they can learn. Human beings learn more from messing up than from everything always going to plan. Allowing the office joker more freedom in itself is a risk, but if the strategy initially doesn’t work out, it gives you the wisdom to respond in a new way, which communicates the important act of showing, not telling. By course correcting yourself, you serve as an example for how your people should respond when their ideas don’t work. After all, this is a team effort – no matter if your role is manager, clown, or both.
Another sideways glance and furrowed brow from a presentation attendee around 25 years my senior after another presentation about how humor makes better leaders: “I get where you’re coming from, but I don’t see why I should change what I’ve always done.” I’m used to this response by now, but at first, it was hard not to snap back, “WERE YOU LISTENING AT ALL!?” Then came the realization that I was tucking a fake mustache and a papal mitre into a suitcase while this sharply dressed, more-successful-than-me executive questioned my credibility. I get it. When you picture a successful business executive, what do you see? How do they carry themselves? Dignified? With importance? Are they stern? Some Mad Men-esque Don Draper figure pops into many minds, but with a little bit of humor and a loosening of the tie, leaders can take an already successful enterprise away from renting a Bentley from Enterprise to blasting off into the cosmos on the Starship Enterprise. A little bit of humor coming from the top can unlock maximum potential in your people, and here are three reasons why:
1. Makes you more approachable
A warm smile and a hearty laugh go a long way to make you appear approachable to the people who call you “boss.” When we’re able to laugh, especially at our own mistakes, it makes you more human, thus more relatable, by communicating to those who may be too shy to come to you with ideas. I hear the platitude, “My office is always open,” from many managers, but just because it’s open, doesn’t mean people feel comfortable coming in. By having the vulnerability to be able to laugh and be open to others laughing at you it makes others actually want to see you succeed as a leader, as long as you’re open to their ideas.
2. Sparks creativity and trust
When people genuinely laugh, it’s when they’re at their most authentic, and seeing someone in a leadership position so open to being real creates a natural sense of trust. When we trust our leaders are authentic, it gives us an intrinsic motivation to want to help them overcome challenges and difficulties or come up with new ideas. If you’ve ever had a boss you’ve loved, you know that feeling of wanting to overdeliver for them. By laughing and being real about your own mistakes, it communicates that your employees don’t have to be perfect. Think about it, would you rather be around someone minding their Ps and Qs and calculating what they’re saying or someone who is real?
3. Reduces sick days
What? How do you reduce sick days by laughing? I don’t want to dive too deep into the biology of what happens when we laugh, but at the very least, it increases blood flow, reduces muscle tension, and massages internal organs. That’s not something a chair at Brookstone or a masseuse at your local strip mall can do. All of these unintended results of laughter being a core part of work allow your employees’ blood pressure to go down so they’re feeling better, taking less time off, and working with a renewed energy.
If what you’ve been doing as a leader all of these years is working, by all means, stick with it! I’m not saying you should overhaul the way you run manage, but you should definitely find more reasons to laugh, especially if it’s at your own mistakes. We’re all human; communicate that it’s okay to be more human to your team and you’ll unlock even more of their potential than you even dreamed.
The 2020 presidential election is in full swing and with it, all of the platitudes, cliches, and mudslinging that accompanies it. Watching politicians jockey for position by having answers to every question, even though it’s evident they’re beating around the bush to avoid admitting they don’t have the answer, is one of my favorite parts of elections. Appearing to have the answer when they don’t actually hurts them in the long run as leaders. When was the last time you watched a political leader respond to a question with an “I don’t know. I’ll have to do further research to answer that question.”? I know I don’t remember.
We can learn from this in our everyday lives, whether we’re in a leadership position or we’re looking for relationship advice. In the quest to look like the smartest person in the room, we miss out on opportunities to say “I don’t know” and open ourselves up to new information. Though it seems counterproductive on the surface, the willingness to admit that you don’t know something has some advantages. Here’s 4 of them:
1. NOT KNOWING SPARKS INNOVATION
We’re on the precipice of a new era because of the advances in technology based on automation. This is a technological revolution that will dwarf the industrial revolution, which required more algorithm-based thinking and management. Change is already occurring at rates we’ve never seen, and with people in previously untouched places around the world like Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East logging on, that change is only going to exponentially increase. This means you will be competing with, not only people around the corner, but companies in Manila, Dubai, and Buenos Aires. With so much information being uploaded at any given moment, if you want to inspire innovation within your organization, it is vital for you to admit to not knowing what you don’t know. Even if you’re 100% sure you’re right, being open to the fact that there’s constantly new information that can counter your current position is key to growth. Besides, if your mindset is already fixed, then where is the room to expand?
2. UNCERTAINTY BREEDS CONFIDENCE FROM OTHERS
Though this may seem like a stretch, there isa big difference between “I have all the answers,” then being proven wrong, and saying “I don’t know.” Though our egos want to make us appear at the top of our game, shutting out new information with this “I’m right, you’re wrong” mentality lowers the confidence that others have in you. This loss in confidence means that people will be hesitant to approach you with new ideas, limiting your potential as a team. Saying “I don’t know,” makes them more comfortable with their own levels of not knowing, creating an openness to new ideas and collaboration that isn’t present with the barriers that come with having all of the answers.
3. IT EXPANDS PERSPECTIVE
By being unsure about something, it activates our intrinsic human desire to explore and learn. When we are actively trying to solve a problem by trying new things, it activates our brains in a way that expands our perspective. This opens us up to more pathways to solutions, rather than the limited strategies we can use when we already know “everything.”
4. IT CAN COUNTERACT STRESS
By being steadfast in how sure we are, it closes us off from discovering new things. When we do discover a new solution to an old problem, our brains release dopamine, a neurochemical that limits the stress chemical cortisol. Less stress means better health, strengthened relationships, and more creativity, and achieving that “Aha!” moment can be a life hack to the creation of excitement while your stress levels dwindle.
Many workplace studies conclude that integrating humor into your leadership strategy can actually make your employees more creative, productive, and successful (7 Reasons Why Work Is The Time And Place To Laugh). Now you want to incorporate these findings into your office, but you don’t have a funny bone in your body, which you learned long ago when you gave that speech at your friend’s wedding, and it’s given you PTSD.
You’re not alone. Though, according to humor researcher Scott Weems, 94% of people believe they have a good sense of humor, only around 50% of people would rate above average.
It looks so effortless on Netflix when those comedians are making their audiences double over with laughter for a whole hour, but they have been perfecting their craft onstage every night for decades. Meanwhile, you’ve been stuck in the same routine at your job for the same amount of time and you’re looking to spice things up in the boardroom.
Here are 6 simple ways to introduce humor to your workplace, even if you’re not funny:
1. Know your limits and poke fun at them
You’re not funny, and that’s fine, but acting like you are when you aren’t can drive others away while owning up to it can make you more likable. In fact, owning up to any of our shortcomings can make us more likable and more relatable, especially if we’re in a leadership position. If we can laugh at our own weaknesses, stress, and mistakes, this subconsciously communicates empathy. Though laughing at ourselves may seem counterproductive, it helps others to stop striving to be perfect, own up to their pitfalls, and shows that you’re approachable in times of duress. Now it’s up to your leadership skills to work together on filling in each others’ weaknesses with your unique strengths. That’s leadership.
2. Foster a creative culture; stop saying no
You want your team to be creative, take risks, and come to you with ideas, but you keep saying no. If someone keeps telling you no, do you want to keep coming to them with ideas? NO! When people approach you to pitch their ideas, from their perspective, they are working to make your organization better and their day easier. Even if the idea is outlandish and implausible, at the very least, listen to them and ask questions. Take some time to explore together why they think it’s a good idea and see if your added perspective can guide them to the solution they’re looking for. At the very least, this will give them more confidence to come to you the next time they have an idea instead of pocketing it in fear you’ll shoot them down. Who knows? Maybe it’ll be the idea you’ve been looking for.
3. Know who your class clowns are and give them the freedom to work their magic
Keep an eye out for groups of people laughing together in your office and remember that this is a good thing – let your employees be human and bond. In fact, look to see if the same people are often involved in these shenanigans. As long as their humor is uplifting and open to all, not only should you let them keep doing their thing, but give them a platform, because keeping the office happy keeps them energized, and that’s when your people are at their best. Not only that, their sense of humor can work as a glue to bring people together during tough times and challenging projects. If it’s something they’re interested in, see if they’d take the responsibility of heading up a humor program to keep laughter as part of the everyday workplace culture. When people are laughing, it’s important to facilitate that culture, even if you aren’t the comedian in the room.
4. Share what makes you laugh
Did you see a funny clip on Facebook? Did you scroll through a thread on Reddit that had you rolling with laughter? Why are you keeping it to yourself? You don’t have to create the content, but sharing what makes you laugh may just be what the doctor ordered to break any tension in the room.
5. Delegate creative projects
Your creative team members are chomping at the bit to break from the routine and flex their creativity. Let them! This falls in line with knowing your people and knowing who to trust with what – you’re looking for the people who, instead of saying “no,” look for novel ways to approach problems. When a new, exciting project comes along, be sure to seek these people out to help with the creative planning stages and watch their eyes light up and their work become more inspired.
6. Organize events that will foster laughter
Does your team seem to be in a funk? Are you not getting the creative input from your people that you’re looking for? This is the perfect time to shake them out of their ruts by hosting an event or putting together a project that focuses on the fun. We’re all children at heart, and to activate that energy, sometimes we need to forget that we’re at work and let loose. Bring in an improv coach and play games that you don’t need formal training to participate in, organize a murder mystery dinner, hire comedians to turn your workplace into a comedy club and break up the workday, host a roast of yourself, someone else in a leadership position, or even the company in general to loosen people up.
There are many activities that can get your team laughing, activating their creative juices – all you have to do is give the okay and be open to the ideas of others. It’s one thing to be funny, but it’s even more important to appreciate what’s funny and foster an environment where people can lean into that.
I had just finished presenting at a leadership conference when my phone vibrated in my pocket; it was an email from a gentleman named Bruce who had booked me to speak at another leadership conference five months later. It turns out, he had just seen me speak, so the only reason he could be emailing me is because couldn’t wait to have me present to his group. What the email actually said was, “We’re going to rescind our request to have you present to our group,” then he called me “wildly unprofessional” which was just salt in the wound. That was unnecessary, Bruce.
The audience laughed throughout, I was approached by another attendee to speak for her group, and I received an email thanking me for my “funny and insightful presentation.” What the hell was wrong with Bruce?
But the more I reread his email and thought about what he had said, the more I could see his point of view: my presentation was designed to shake people out of their comfort zones by making fun of the status quo of work, but I didn’t take into account that many people comfortable with the status quo.
(Also, dick jokes aren’t typically part of your standard HR presentation. My bad, Bruce.)
The status quo of work I was making fun of: 1 in 3 Americans are engaged by their jobs and this disengagement costs American companies $450-$550 billion per year.
How can we engage the people who work with and for us and disrupt this status quo?
Remember you’re a human being and so are they. The world needs to be able to laugh at itself, which is why I sometimes approach my presentations with uncomfortable humor. When we can acknowledge that discomfort, we come to the realization that perhaps it’s time to make changes, and what better way than to introduce laughter into the fabric of work?
Do you like to laugh? Of course you do! And if you know you’re going somewhere you’re going to laugh, don’t you look forward to it? My hypothesis: if people actually look forward to laughing at work, it’ll engage them and inspire them to work better.
Here are 7 reasons why it’s time to make work the time and place to laugh:
1. Improves employee performance
According to a 2007 University of Missouri study, employees with a sense of humor show higher productivity, more effective communication, and a psychological connection to their work.
2. Improves leadership skills
According to the same University of Missouri study, leaders with a sense of humor were found to be more effective at motivating others and reducing workplace stress.
3. Employees want humor in the workplace
A Bell Leadership Institute survey found that employees would rather work for leaders who exhibit a sense of humor, as well as a strong work ethic. Imagine that!
4. Increases shareholder returns
A study by Huet and Associates found that organizations with higher levels of employee engagement where humor played a role outperformed similar companies on the stock market with increased shareholder returns of 19%.
5. Reduces the number of sick days
We’ve all heard that “laughter is the best medicine.” This doesn’t mean to stop taking your meds and laugh constantly, but incorporating laughter into your workplace’s leadership strategy improves overall health. The endorphins, oxytocin, and dopamine that is released into the bloodstream when we laugh counteracts the cortisol that stress releases, thus reducing sick days and increasing productivity. Studies have found that consistent laughter lowers blood pressure, increases oxygen flow, fights upper respiratory infections, and improves pain tolerance.
6. Creates new perspectives of problems
Whether it’s a difficult coworker who spends most of their day complaining or a worldwide pandemic strikes, being able to laugh about it gives us a healthier perspective. Laughing about something minimizes the psychological impact by giving ourselves power over that thing. When we laugh about something that’s “too soon,” it’s our brain’s way of saying “I haven’t seen it that way before.” If we know to laugh, it presents a bigger picture that makes adversity seem smaller.
7. Helps solve creative challenges
In such a fast-paced world, outside-of-the-box thinking is vital in workplaces, and laughter activates our creativity much better than simply telling others to “think creatively, idiot.” A University of Maryland study found that groups who were shown funny videos then solved creative challenges at a rate of 58% vs. the 30% exhibited by control groups. So have the office watch, well, The Office before a meeting where you need ideas.
If you work for an organization looking for a creative edge, take a moment to find small ways to have fun around the office: from sharing funny memes to incorporating humor into your boring slideshows, there are a myriad of ways. Above are just 7 reasons to make work the time and place to laugh, but the benefits are endless. This is why it’s time to change what it means to be “professional” and explore what it means to be “wildly unprofessional.”
When I step outside in my Victorian era tailcoat, vest, and top hat, I tend to get some concerned looks, but it’s when I take a leisurely ride through the park on my comically lopsided penny-farthing that I end up on a lot of Instagram stories. Why?
I look like an idiot.
If my roommates’ parents were to take a steam-powered locomotive from San Francisco to visit Cleveland, I’d be perplexed. Doing that instead of taking a plane would be like Frodo taking the One Ring to Mordor on foot… rather than just using GIANT EAGLES. Seriously – Gandalf had giant freaking eagles at his disposal. The quest to save Middle Earth from destruction could’ve been over in days!!! Why would you take such an outdated, antiquated method of transportation when there are GIANTE FREAKING EAGLES called AIRPLANES!? You could even take Amtrak, make a stop at every single goddamned town, and still be more efficient in your travel.
It doesn’t make sense to rely on 19th century practices when there are so many better ways to do things, does it? So why do many of today’s creatively stifling management practices run on 19thcentury thinking?
With the dawn of factory work, companies relied on measurement and monitoring in order to control thousands of workers. According to the book Alive at Work: The Neuroscience of Helping Your People Love What They Do, managers created policies that stifled employees’ natural desires to explore and try new things so that they would focus on narrow tasks. This system was crucial to production and reliability, but it hampered self-expression, the ability to experiment and learn, and withered away their connection to the final product, thus eliminating meaning and engagement from work.
Now, we live in a world that’s evolving at an unprecedented rate where thinking outside of the box, taking risks, and innovation are key qualities that employees need… but the old industrial management practices are still entrenched in most workplaces.
Employees are unable to leverage their unique skills. They’re shoehorned into a system that creates stress, fear, and encourages office politics so that there are constant missed opportunities for collaboration, breakdowns in communication, and a rampant lack of meaning.
The Industrial Revolution discovered new ways to innovate technology so that people could work more efficiently, but if factories were still relying on the same machinery from 150 years ago, they’d actually be hurting their efficiency.
Most workplaces are still relying on the same management practices from 150 years ago, yet little effort has been made to change this entrenched system. Time continues to pass and we’re heading into a new, automation revolution. IT’S TIME FOR CHANGE!
There are workplaces out there that engage their people in ways that gives them the freedom to explore, take risks, make mistakes, and learn from those mistakes. This makes their teams much more innovative and their people much more fulfilled by their work, thus creating the production that Victorian era managers were looking for without the sacrifices to their employees’ humanity. These workplaces, however, are few and far between…
If advancing our technology allowed mankind to take such a giant leap forward during the Industrial Revolution, imagine how big of a leap mankind would take by advancing how we treat other people – you know, the ones who use and innovate the technology. Giving humans the opportunity to take advantage of the biological need to explore our creativity at work is our GIANT FREAKING EAGLE; let’s work together and USE IT!
Think About It:
Do you work better when you’re free to be creative or when you’re micromanaged and every part of your work is monitored?
Think of a time you were able to think outside of the box on a project: how did it engage you? How did it make you feel? Were you able to come up with solution ideas more quickly?
If you’re a leader, how can you communicate to your people that it’s okay to stretch themselves creatively and take risks? If you had just a little more creative freedom with your work, what would you do differently?
How can you spread this shift in workplace thinking at your job?