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Jest Practices: Best Practices for Humor in the Workplace

By: Craig Harrison
Most agree that humor in the workplace can have beneficial effects. Yet not all humor is good humor. The challenge: how to interject appropriate humor and fun into our serious jobs without hurting others or seriously undermining the company. When used appropriately, humor can work for you. 

Humor that Uploads Also Uplifts

Humor has the power to make people feel special. When you include people in fun it simultaneously improves morale, reduces stress and facilitates team building. With the prevalence of telecommuting and workgroups scattered geographically, the challenge of furthering working relationships, bonding and building camaraderie is real. At one San Francisco Bay Area company a workgroup staged an elaborate Remote Baby Shower. The expectant mother, who was out-of-state, called in for a pre-arranged conference call with her workgroup. When she did…surprise! Everyone was having a party in her honor. They uploaded digital photos of a decorated conference room and each other, and e-mailed sound files with well wishes. Everyone shared in the good cheer. This creative use of technology brought employees closer to each other, figuratively if not literally.

Humor That Brings People Together

Workplaces are full of opportunities to use humor for the benefit of all. Milestones are a natural place to employ humor. Dress like the recipient as a tribute during a surprise birthday party. Other celebrations to mark anniversaries, project completions or similar accomplishments are perfect opportunities to utilize humor. Even surviving certain projects is cause for celebration and fun.

Holidays are another natural time to employ humor. Halloween is a time for contests to see who can best decorate conference rooms; for other companies the anniversary of their founding is cause for celebration. Silly speeches, skits and spoofs abound.

And the Award Goes To…

Staging award ceremonies is a great way to have fun, recognize each other and revel in the shared work experience. Whether the categories mimic those found at the Oscars, Emmys or Tonys, or are derivative, esprit de corps rises when the team laughs at itself and each other. Best Supporting Actor, Best Impersonation of an Inanimate Object, Best Special Effects, Most Likely to Secede, or Lifetime Achievement Award.

Humor Is The Winning Ticket

Pranks can alternately be uplifting or uprooting. A desktop publisher, on April Fools Day, adorned his co-workers cars’ windshields with mock yellow parking tickets, complete with envelopes for remittance. Upon closer inspection, these true-to-life replicas of tickets had whimsical offenses of significance to the recipients. The departmental joker’s ticket cited him for “excessive use of farce” and the hard charging corporate counsel’s infraction charged him with a “Failure to Yield.” Of course the initiator of the gag was later cited for impersonating an officer. Everyone laughed at the spoof once they realized it was a joke. Judge Judy’s signature at the bottom of the ticket gave it away.

Pole Position

A fast growing company didn’t have enough office space for full cubicles for its new hires. One unfortunate hire’s assigned cubicle had a giant pole in its midst. To her credit she never complained. Co-workers felt for her. One night they hit the streets, collecting various fliers from telephone poles in their neighborhoods. The next day when the new hire reached her cubicle, the offending pole was now covered with notices about missing pets, renters seeking apartments, cheap movers for hire and even local GRE study groups. Not only did the employee know her co-workers felt her frustration, it bonded them as well as they pulled together to help one of their own.

One Person’s Humor is Another Person’s Horror

When targeting humor consider targeting yourself. Everyone has a different idea of what’s funny and what’s not. Many a well intentioned prank or joke has backfired. One co-worker sent another a prank letter impersonating a local media figure. The recipient mistook it for real, interpreted it as harassment and called the FBI. Oops!

The Benefits of Self-Effacing Humor

When we make fun of ourselves it actually demonstrates our healthy outlook, showing we don’t take ourselves so seriously. As a result, we’re regarded as more approachable and down to earth. Don’t make fun of yourself excessively. Such humor loses its effectiveness with overuse.

Everyone from politicians to CEOs to Southwest Airlines flight attendants use self-deprecating humor – humor that makes fun of themselves – to get people laughing at, and consequently with them. You can too.

While gallows humor may feel appropriate during layoffs and cutbacks, strive to employ humor that uplifts and taps universal themes for best results. Here’s to laughter!

About The Author

Since the age of eleven when he went door-to-door selling Used Jokes, Craig Harrison has been connecting with customers through humor. As a professional speaker and corporate trainer Craig Harrison’s Expressions of Excellence provides sales and service solutions through speaking. Contact him at (888) 450-0664, through his website http://www.ExpressionsofExcellence.com or via e-mail: humor@craigspeaks.com.