Humour Helps

Winnipeg Free Press, October 26, 2013 | Go to article overview

Humour Helps


Workplace laughs -- within bounds -- can boost productivity

When I started to think about laughter and humour in the workplace, I was immediately reminded of the now famous Dilbert cartoons. This American comic strip arrived on the scene a little over 25 years ago and has become a wildly popular source of satirical office humour.

Cartoonist Scott Adams seems to have an innate ability to find humour in every element of work, ranging from technology to corporate culture, interpersonal issues and employee-boss relationships. His characters are always commenting on office politics and the many ridiculous decisions that often arise from poor leadership.

In many cases, office humour has been an individual employee effort with the Dilbert cartoons pinned to an office cubicle or taped alongside a computer. Today, leaders are recognizing humour can play a bigger role in creating overall employee job satisfaction and can be a powerful strategy for building a positive corporate culture. In fact, surveys over the years have suggested humour and laughter encourage creativity, fosters positive workplace relationships and helps to create a more human face for your organization.

A study in 2007 by Chris Robert, an assistant professor at the University of Missouri, found an individual with a good sense of humour not only showed higher levels of productivity but was also able to communicate more effectively with their boss, co-workers and customers. As well, humour helped to increase an employee's psychological connection with his or her organization and served to improve employee retention overall. As well, leaders with a good sense of humour are known to be more effective at motivating employees, reducing workplace stress and developing effective rapport and communication with their employees. They use their quick wit to develop and maintain morale and to demonstrate overall laughter is a valued characteristic within the workplace.

Yet, while there is an increasing recognition that laughter might be good medicine and humour in the workplace helps to create a psychologically healthy workplace, leaders need to ensure they develop effective strategies and tools to implement humour effectively into our multicultural and multi-generational workplace.

First of all, leaders need to establish some guidelines so workers are encouraged to use appropriate humour in the workplace. For instance, employees need to know any and all efforts at creating humour must make people feel good, release tension and help employees look at the lighter side of life. This means humour must be directed at situations rather than at individuals. Humour that is disrespectful, labels or insults individuals rather than poking fun is unacceptable. Practical jokes and sarcasm, for instance, typically make people feel bad and should be avoided.

Secondly, educate your leaders on how to recognize and effectively deploy the various types of humour. For instance, an individual who uses self-deprecating humour and makes fun of him/herself to relieve tension might overuse this particular style to such an extent that employees become uncomfortable. At the same time, teasing someone for too long creates more harm than good.

One of the key educational elements for leaders is to recognize their own cultural background and preferences toward the use of humour in their life. Next, examine the nature of intercultural biases that might exist in the workforce. Think about cultural elements such as body language, assertiveness, communication style, eye contact, dealing with conflict, dealing with silence, time and physical space. …

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