Humor at work – good or bad?

Humor at work“Let’s discuss the company’s health benefits during our smoke break.”

Project environment could be quite serious, especially when delivery dates are approaching.
Humor is known to be an antidote for even depression.
Naturally these two should go together harmoniously. Right?

On the outset, yes. While a healthy dose of clean humor at work can create wonders, ill-timed or out-of-context humor even when meant well, can turn a harmonious project situation sour.

Influence of Culture

Michael Kerr, president of ‘Humor at Work‘ and author of ‘The Humor Advantage: Why Some Businesses are Laughing all the Way to the Bank’, says the amount or type of humor you’ll find in any given workplace depends almost entirely on the culture.

As a project manager, especially if your team has people from different cultures, you need to be careful about type of humor used. Not only project manager needs to be cautious in using humor (timing and context) but also look out for inappropriate usage by team members.

Sometimes even workplace setup or situations can lead to humor. I remember an incident when our team was colocated with couple of other project teams. The other team was quite outgoing and because of that few members were finding it difficult to focus on their work. After several polite requests that didn’t help, we decided to put a small ‘Silence Please’ signboard. This, while not being the most appropriate response, helped the situation to a good extent. Then one day a client from another country visited us. The first thing he noticed was the signboard and he couldn’t control his laughter. He even clicked the snap and emailed back to his wife for a hearty laugh. 🙂

“It annoys me when my coworkers are running around and avoiding work while I’m avoiding work at my desk”

Here are some pointers I have discovered (some, the hard way 🙂 ) about what to do and what not to do in your project in order to leverage humor –

  1. Know the tastes of team members
  2. Stay away from laughing at someone. If its a must, laugh at yourself. People like you for that.
  3. No stale jokes, instead include humor in conversation
  4. See humor in every situation, especially when team is under pressure of delivery. It helps lighten team’s mood.
  5. Use humor cautiously with customers and higher ups. Some people tend to enjoy humor, some take work too seriously.

Lynn Taylor, author of ‘Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant’, believes that employees are comfortable using humor with their colleagues than with their bosses. “You face a higher risk factor when joking around with your boss because you just don’t know how your lightheartedness may be taken. So, you generally find greater reticence to use humor with senior managers.”

“I always give 100% at Work: 10% Monday, 23% Tuesday, 40% Wednesday, 22% Thursday, 5% Friday!”

Benefits of good humor at work

  • Humor is a perfect stress buster

Google has a giant waterslide on its main campus for a reason. Many companies have ping pong tables, screen comedy movies on the giant screen at work, or have video game consoles. Having fun as well as humor at work is a great stress buster. People will want to be at office and do their job well, rather than looking for Friday evening to arrive.

The Mayo Clinic explains physical changes that happen with laughter. Organs get stimulated, air gets drawn in, endorphins released, stress levels are lowered, heart rates and blood pressures become lowered. A clear physical reaction to humor (not just a simple smirk or smile) can produce a good, relaxed feeling overall.

  • Humor helps people bond, helps build team synergy and increases productivity

Humor leads to better understanding and cooperation amongst employees and teams almost automatically improve productivity. Moreover, humor creates space for employees to challenge and change old habits and obsolete procedures.

  • Humor increases creativity

Humor can help create a culture where we laugh at our mistakes and learn from them and each others’ mistakes. When there is acceptance of mistakes we tend to be not afraid to try new stuff, and this knowledge helps us think freely and creatively.

  • Humor increases openness

One cannot feel stressed and enjoy a joke simultaneously. Not many people can be indifferent towards good humor either. Humor helps people open up, engage with team members and communicate without holding back.

“The golden rule of work is that the boss’s jokes are ALWAYS funny.”

Finding right balance of timing, context and the mood of your co-workers is quite important for humor at workplace. Knowing the advantages of humor, even if you are not sure whether your humor is taken in the right spirit, give it a shot. Look at people’s reaction and make adjustments next time you have something funny to say. Soon you will get the pulse of your team and people will find it enjoyable to have conversations with you. Your team members will find it easier to confide in you and open up. Humor at work, if used well, could be the key to your success.

“Procastinator? No. I just wait until the last second to do my work because I will be older, therefore wiser.”

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