“A sense of humor is part of the art of leadership, of getting along with people, of getting things done.” – Dwight D. Eisenhower, 34th President of the United States
It’s not easy to define “humor.” It has many facets. It can be a play on words, a joke, a story, or funny behavior. It can be lighthearted, ironic, good-natured, sarcastic, satirical, or cynical. For me, humor is much more than a form of communication. It’s an attitude toward life that is directed both outward and inward. If you are humorous, you don’t take yourself too seriously. You can find the funny aspect in a challenging situation and laugh.
In the workplace, being funny can be tough. Whether your words come across as a good joke, an ironic statement, or derisive mockery depends entirely on how they are received by the person you’re speaking with. Humor can build relationships or quickly destroy trust, and it’s hard to guarantee you’ll get the outcome you want.
Why Humor in the Workplace Is Good for Us
Despite the risks, I think humor is important in the workplace. Here’s why:
1. Humor Improves Teamwork
He who laughs with others laughs best. Humor can create a sense of togetherness; laughter can relax us in stressful situations and helps us get our communication on track. Colleagues who regularly share humor with each other usually get along better; they are more likely to trust and support one another. The research bears this all out: Humor has been found to improve group productivity, communication, and more.
2. Humor Relieves Stress
Laughter is the best medicine — especially when it comes to mental ailments. Promoting humor in the workplace can be an effective way of helping employees manage their stress.
It can be easy to get overwhelmed and burned out when one takes oneself too seriously. Humor, however, can help us change our perspectives, distance ourselves from our worries, and recontextualize our stressors as temporary challenges. Laughter — even just anticipating it — can soothe the body’s stress response. When we laugh, our blood pressure, heart rates, and stress hormone levels all decrease, and we feel more relaxed.
3. Humor Boosts Productivity and Creativity
Some managers are reluctant to let employees cut loose. They may be having thoughts like, “We don’t run a circus here. People should be hard at work in the office, not giggling constantly.”
Often, managers feel this way because they believe time spent cracking jokes is time spent away from important tasks. However, that’s not necessarily true: Employees who have fun while they work are often more productive than their more dour counterparts. Additionally, humor — especially sarcastic humor — has been shown to improve creativity.
Consider how innovation and problem-solving can be spurred on by humor. When you’re facing a seemingly insoluble challenge, it’s easy to let all your thoughts revolve around the stress and anger the problem is causing you. Once you see red, you can’t see anything else — including the innovative new solution the problem calls for. Sure, difficult situations can’t be laughed away, but cheerful moments let you get some distance form the matter at hand. That way, you can see it more clearly.
4. Humorous Employees Make Your Customers Happy
You know how a smile can be “heard” over the phone? When we’re in a good mood, our voices and demeanors are totally different. That happiness can be contagious, spreading from your employees to your customers. Before you know it, everyone who interacts with your organization is smiling.
Encouraging More Humor in Your Workplace
If you want to harness the power of humor in your workplace, you need to first create an environment in which employees feel they have the permission to be humorous. As their leader or manager, a humor-friendly environment starts with you.
Don’t be afraid of showing your humorous side every now and then. Many business leaders worry that joking around will cause them to lose their authority, but the opposite is often the case. Dare to make an (appropriate) joke and see how it goes. Joke about yourself; laugh when someone says something funny. Just make sure that no one ever makes jokes at a colleague’s expense.
Of course, it doesn’t help anyone if employees are all standing around in the canteen all day long. It’s okay to set limits and remind people that work still needs to get done while the jokes are flying. It’s all about balance.
Humor is important. It promotes both employee satisfaction and the economic success of the company.
Just remember that there are different types of humor, and some are more suitable for the workplace than others. Positive humor can inspire people and relieve their stress, while aggressive and cynical humor can be unsettling and stressful.
Create an environment in which employees feel free to indulge in (respectful, appropriate) humor, and you’ll see some major benefits.
Peter Navarro is responsible for employer branding at Sixt SE.
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