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Workplace Humor or When Was the Last Time You Had Fun at Work?

Mar 11, 2008
Business is serious stuff.

Costs must not exceed revenues. Employees must be hired, fired, reviewed, evaluated, compensated and motivated. Managers must walk the tightrope of viewing employees both as resources and costs. The competition is brutal.

What does it say about a business when we walk in and find stressed, grumpy, resentful employees? Isn't image, look and feel the responsibility of management?

Employees do what they are told and reflect the company image they are told to reflect. Image is the responsibility of management. So is humor.

Unfortunately the message employees often get is that the company is no fun. With such high stakes the atmosphere can get overly serious: "if we don't get this contract we all should start to look for another job."

"If we don't find a way to compete with that big chain we are toast."

"All our best customers are going to our cheaper competitors."

These are serious issues...everyday serious issues. Bread and butter problems are not funny. These issues aren't funny so why the humor?

Consider the normal reaction when a manager tells an employee 'unless we get more sales, we won't make payroll next week.' More often than not the reaction is one of simple worry.

The manager mistakenly feels that if he makes the employee feel badly enough then the employee will become motivated as if the payroll problems were the employee's problem.

In reality the manager is simply spreading his worry. The next customer that comes in will read the worry in the employee's face. The customer may not know the specifics but they clearly see there is a lot of tension. They can see it.

What is not always clear to managers is how the bottom line correlates with attitude and company culture.

When employees hang their heads it is usually a good indicator of the company's performance. The impression depressed employees give is one of trouble or internal problems.

Yet the hard facts of cash flow and competition cannot be ignored. Where is the trade off? Where is the magic mix? Is there a happy median?

The bad news is there are no quick fixes for the business seriousness syndrome. The really bad news is it takes some cognitive restructuring or reframing of old attitudes to develop a better sense of humor.

In order to change perception attitude has to change and that is not an easy task. People are stubborn and in fact attitudinal change is almost always is a very difficult chore.

It is important to understand that humor is a process not a destination. Humor requires ongoing creativity and lots of attention. And some lighthearted kidlike energy. After all, humor is supposed to be fun, no?

What's the worst that can happen? Without humor, the worst is already happening.

Think about beginning your next business meeting with a touch of humor. Do something humorous and different. Hand out toys if you can't think of anything else. Liven up!

Make the attendees do something that involves their direct participation. Take a minute to have few chuckles before getting down to all your serious business. Make fun of a tense situation to help ease the stress.

Employees know when their jobs are on the line. Making them feel worse accomplishes nothing except lowering morale. Making them laugh lessens their tensions, improves focus and may just improve productivity.

Laughing certainly helps morale. Try a little humor. 'If we all die in the Big One that will take care of the tax problem.'

Use humor to lower communication barriers when you are dealing with something very serious. 'I would be getting sunburned in Tulum right now if we hadn't lost that shipment'.

Use humor to reinforce the bond between you and your customers, suppliers and staff. Customers like to be perceived as humans and not just accounts. When you use lighthearted humor with people they tend to view you in a more positive light don't feel they are only a transaction.

Do happy employees create happy customers? Are your people happy?

So just how is your company look and feel doing these days? Do you project a positive image with friendly, loose, relaxed, focused and upbeat employees? Are all your people Sad Sacks?

Humor is one of the highest, personal and complex of all behaviors. But at the same time there really is no need to make it out to be more than it is. It's all really quite simple. Humor is life; humor is fun.

Ask yourself, is your work fun?
About the Author
Jack Deal is the owner of Jack D. Deal Business Consulting. Related articles may be found at http://www.jddeal.com/blog/business and http://www.freeandinquiringmind.typepad.com
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