It’s a question I get all the time, and it’s a fair question. I’m an advocate for workplace happiness, both on human and business grounds. But isn’t workplace happiness just a bunch of BS some back-rubbing, bongo-drum-banging, “incense” using, 1960’s corporate burnouts came up with to make themselves feel better?
Depending how well I know the one who just posed the “is it really that big a deal question,” I might ask them if they prefer a miserable one. Or if given they choice they’d rather feel despair at work rather than a sense of fun. I’m not trying to be a smart-ass, but it’s really not all that complicated when you think about it.
Think about it this way. Michael Kerr, author of The Humor Advantage: Why Some Businesses are Laughing all the Way to the Bank, says the humor at a given workplace depends almost entirely on that organization’s culture.
“In workplaces that encourage people to be themselves–that are less hierarchical and more innovative–people tend to be more open with their humor,” he says. “Even people who aren’t always comfortable sharing their humor tend to do so in more relaxed environments where the use of humor becomes second nature with everyone’s style.”
Kerr goes on to say that several — or was it dozens? — of surveys suggest that humor is one of many keys to success. For example, a Robert Half International survey found that 91% of current executives believe a sense of humor is important for career advancement. 84% believe that people with a good sense of humor do a better job. Bell Leadership Institute conducted a study and one of the findings was that the two most important traits in leaders were a great work ethic and a good sense of humor.
“At an organizational level, some organizations are tapping into what I’d call ‘the humor advantage,’” Kerr says. “Companies such as Zappos and Southwest Airlines have used humor and a positive fun culture to help brand their business, attract and retain employees and to attract customers.”
Lynn Taylor, author of Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant, suggests that humor shows that one has the “maturity and the ability to see the forest through the trees….You don’t have to be a stand-up comedian,” she adds, “but well-placed humor that is clever and apropos to a business situation always enhances an employee’s career.”
And here some of you thought I was making all this stuff up. I’m secretly far nerdier about this stuff than you know. If I get one more nasty email about culture and workplace happiness being a load of bunk, I’m going to have to go all academic on you. And it won’t be pretty. I’ve got oodles of research bombs and I’m not afraid to use them.
Practically speaking though, what does it matter? Why are humor and fun a big deal? I’m so glad you asked.
1. Humor is human. Seriously. (See what I did there?)
2. If you’re halfway fun to be around, it reduces the likelihood that people will hate working with you.
3. It can really help alleviate workplace stress.
4. Humor has ties to creativity. Having a good time allows you to have fun with ideas. You can bat them around. Suggest things you otherwise wouldn’t. Not worry so much about what others may think of an idea. It relaxes you and encourages you to make associations you otherwise may not have.
5. It prevents board room kung fu battles from breaking out. A little humor can help lighten the mood and ease the tension in the room. It’s very tough to hit this just right. Too little and they can’t tell if you’re being funny or stupid, and too much tells them you’re just stupid.
6. Since it makes you more human (see #1. seriously), it helps build trust. The real you comes out.
7. It makes you more approachable. If given the option between approaching someone who was going to make you laugh or make you cry, which would you select?
8. Having fun at work boosts morale. Do I have to explain this one?
9. Having fun at work boosts productivity. Do I have to explain this one? (If you’re saying yes, please refer back to paragraph 10 and the veiled threat of research bombs.)
10. It can help you stand out. You don’t even really think about it, but there are companies who make a killing off standing out for being perceived as fun or humorous, right? Southwest would be the cliché, though still great, example. I’m not saying every organization should or needs to be funny. In fact, I’d beg you not to if it’s not your thing. Just be you.
11. They’re often contagious. Emotional contagion is a thing. It goes by different names depending on what nerdy study you read, but the basic idea is that humor, happiness, etc, spread just like other things do. You know that whole apple and bunch-spoiling thing? Yeah, it’s something like that, but in a positive way.
Am I forgetting any? What do you think?