#274 from Innovative Leader Volume 6, Number 5          May 1997

Humor In The Workplace
by Brian and Kelly Craft

Through Comedy Lifeline International, the authors  present seminars, talks and coaching sessions for corporations and organizations. They cover topics from stress reduction to conflict management.  (phone: 714-957-2617; e-mail: hahalife@comedylife.com)

Humor, the joy of jocularity, has benefits that are actually measurable.  The University of Southern California has tested subjects both before and after a thorough laugh session and found that laughing lowers the blood pressure, releases natural pain killers (endorphins), and boosts the immune system.  Not bad for having fun!

Some of the correlations on the relaxing power of laughter:

     100 laughs = 10 minutes of aerobic benefits from a rowing machine
     15 minutes of laughter = relaxing effect of meditating for 8 hours.
     10 minutes of laughter =  relaxing effect of 2 hours sleep

We can see the future of medicine now . . . .  "Take two television comedy programs and call me in the morning."  Of course, as with anything, there will be people who overdo it.  Next we'll be looking at twelve steps to conquering humor addiction. "I dunno doc, I just start laughing and I can't stop."

Humor is beneficial to the human spirit as well as the body, but is there a place for humor and fun in the workplace?  You betcha!  Let's just look at what we've mentioned so far, a boosted immune system, that translates into a healthier work force, meaning less sick days away from work.  Lower blood pressure, combined with the release of endorphins, means a more relaxed person.  And a more relaxed person has higher productivity, is more efficient, more accurate, has higher energy and works with greater purpose.

Overcoming Stress

All of us have, at one time or another, experienced an incident where we were under so much pressure we would freeze up, or we'd forget why we just came into a room, or we just felt like our mind was spinning on so much input.  The result was that we didn't know where to start, so we wind up not accomplishing a tenth of our capabilities.  You're not going crazy, you are under stress!  Remember all of those neat things that laughter does to your body?  Well, the monster we call stress does the opposite. Your blood pressure elevates, your immune system starts to get depressed, you get depressed, and instead of feel-good endorphins being released, the part of your brain called the limbic system kicks in to result in a confused, unfocused person.  How does this effect your business?  More sick days, and lower productivity.  To paraphrase Boris Karloff's Frankenstein, "Stress-bad, Laughter-good!"

Okay so now you're saying, (hopefully) "Laughter and humor is a benefit to my company, but how do I incorporate humor into the workplace.  I'm a manager, Im a leader; red rubber noses, and rubber chickens would clash with my blue pinstripe suit!"  I understand, don't worry were going to learn to crawl before we do the Charlie Chaplin waddle!  Don't get tense, I'm using metaphors.

Bring Humor to Work

There are many ways to bring humor into the workplace, from a laughter bulletin board, to a joke of the day.  You might even consider "humor breaks;" they are much healthier than cigarette breaks.  One of the first things we would suggest is that you have a meeting (we know how you managers love meetings) to discuss humor.  I can hear you now, "I can't just call a meeting to talk about humor, I'd feel funny.  Ill become the laughing stock!"  Those previous two thoughts point directly at the challenge of bringing humor to work.  "I'd feel funny" isnt a good feeling. "I'd become a laughing stock" has definite negative connotations.  The history of  business and humor has been that humor is a negative.

The times are changing.  We have the same 24 hours in a day that our parents had, yet we are more pressured for time. We telecommute, e-mail, and yes even surf the web.  The changes in business in the past 15 years is the largest change since the beginning of the industrial revolution. So call that humor meeting, call it "Enhancing Morale", call it  "Stress Evaluation and Reduction Plan;" call it whatever you want, but have that meeting.  The topics to be covered in this meeting should include:  1) What is the best way to incorporate humor into the place of business; 2) What subjects are acceptable, as well as what subjects or materials are offensive. Remember, the idea is to make humor in the workplace a reality, so don't make the acceptable topics so limited that people are afraid to bring in anything.

You may want to consider zoning for humor, create areas where humor and fun are the norm and not the exception.  Load the area up with toys things that are fun, anything from a toy from McDonald's Happy Meal (they don't check to see if you really are buying it for a child) to kaleidoscopes.

Consider adding a section of each meeting to humor, even two or three minutes.  As humor becomes more a part of your business, the more it will be perceived as acceptable.  With humor in every meeting there would be a portion that everyone would look forward to.  Humor, as a natural part of communication, also helps break the ice, allows people to feel more at ease, and tends to lead to a higher level of agreement.  For generations, sales people have used humor to make it easier for the customer to make his or her purchase.  We also believe that by having humor become an integral part of work, your employees start associating work with fun.  So, start today.  If you focus on looking for fun and laughter, then youll achieve it--and its advantages.  If you're sitting there saying, I can't focus on humor, I've got astigmatism, no problem, put on some rose-colored glasses.

Some people say, "I'll play when I feel better."  We say, "You'll feel better when you play!"

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