Magazine article Phi Kappa Phi Forum

Funny Business at Work

Magazine article Phi Kappa Phi Forum

Funny Business at Work

Article excerpt

Bosses and rank and file alike sometimes tell a joke to cut tension or break the ice. But generally, the workplace is no laughing matter, right? Since humor can be subversive, aggressive, or offensive, skip it on the job, yes? Not necessarily. Kidding around--especially about the assignment, office or profession--can be a plus, according to "Light Humor in the Workplace Is a Good Thing, Review Shows," a November 2007 article at ScienceDaily.com. An occasional hardy-har-har "enhances creativity, department cohesiveness and overall performance," the report encapsulates, citing a study by University of Missouri-Columbia management professor Christopher Robert and business doctoral student Wan Yan.

In fact, "the ability to laugh and make other people laugh." Robert says, "has physiological effects on the body that cause people to become more bonded." Indeed, "simple muscular exertions involved in producing the familiar ha, ha, ha ... trigger an increase in endorphins, the brain chemicals known for their feel-good effect," writes James Gorman of The New York Times in "Scientists Hint at Why Laughter Feels So Good" from September 2011, summarizing Robin Dunbar, an evolutionary psychologist at Oxford University. Endorphins are 10 times more powerful than morphine, Mary Rau-Foster documents in "Humor and Fun in the Workplace" at WorkplaceIssues.com. Pleasing and exhilarating contagious social laughter "fosters closeness in a group the way one-on-one grooming, patting and delousing promote and maintain bonds between individual primates of all sorts," Gorman notes, explaining Dunbar's thought.

Experts quoted by Forbes staff writer Jacquelyn Smith in May in "10 Reasons Why Humor Is a Key to Success at Work" echo much of the above. They add that workplace humor builds trust, raises morale, relieves stress, bolsters humanization, augments approachability, puts others at ease, and wins friends and influences people.

Surveys reinforce these conclusions. A poll of 737 chief executive officers by the recruiters Hodge-Cronin and Associates found that 98 percent favor job applicants with a sense of humor. Eighty-four percent of 1,000 executives, in a canvass by Robert Half International staffing, believe employees with a good sense of humor do better at their jobs. Fifty-seven percent of chief financial officers declare humor is "somewhat important" and 22 percent consider it "very important" to personnel fitting into the workplace culture, per an inquiry in January 2012 by Accountemps staffing of 1,400 U.S. companies with 20 or more employees. A sense of humor and work ethic were mentioned twice as much as anything else by 2,700 employees across the spectrum when asked by the Bell Leadership Institute in March 2012 to identify exemplary senior colleagues.

"You probably haven't heard this one making the rounds at the water cooler, because it's not a joke. It's actually one finding from a study by researcher Fabio Sala--a consultant with the Hay Group's McClelland Centre for Research and Innovation--who found a positive correlation between the size of executives' bonuses and their use of humor." Mike Kerr, a motivational business speaker, author and president of Humor at Work, details in "Laughing Your Way to the Top" from his eponymous website. "The study also found that outstanding executives use humor more than twice as often as the so-called average executives. …

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