Believe it or not, workplace levity can be quite the lightning-rod topic in many organizations.
There are a few moments in my career I won’t soon, if ever, forget.
One took place at a former employer during a meeting when an executive looked at me — with a straight, if not disgusted, face mind you — and asked why having happy employees was really “that big a deal.” I laughed, out loud, in the middle of that meeting. I was the only one. To this day that remains one of the funniest moments of my life.
As more folks connect through social media, at conferences, and however else, some get all worked up about “creating a professional image,” or some similarly expressed notion, which simply means making something look or feel or sound like what’s expected. Or at least what is perceived to be expected by a particular group of people in a particular setting. Or what they wish was what was expected.
Sadly, this often results in sucky presentations, boring social media, run-of-the-mill advertising, dreadful workplaces, robotic interactions, etc. It may be “professional,” but when’s the last time you couldn’t get something out of your mind because of how “professional” it was? When’s the last time you couldn’t wait to do something because it was just so….”professional”?
There are any number of things you could be that many would argue run contrary to being “professional,” if we confine the word to that meaning, which I don’t, by the way.
One of those is humor, and while many places enjoy humor, but I’ve heard enough horror stories to know that’s not necessarily the norm.
I, on the other hand, think humor isn’t only OK, but a good thing. A helpful, human thing, even. Why do I think that? I’m so glad you asked.
1. It connects you with the other humans.
Almost everybody likes laughing to at least some degree. Non-offensive jokes (and sometimes even borderline offensive ones) can establish humanness, likeability, and even trust. It lets folks know that you’re a person just like them; not just some corporate schmo looking to make a point or a sale. A joke related to a difficult situation can disarm a group. Combined with knowledge, humor can be a great tool.
2. Laughter sets that moment apart.
That’s kind of how a punch line works. You’re thinking one way, but then a story takes a turn and it’s funny. It sticks out to us because of that humor. We laugh.
3. Humor creates alignment.
Think about jokes. Often, we find jokes funny because they’re based on these universally understood things. We’ve all walked around half the day with our zipper down. We’ve all returned someone’s wave only to realize we were actually returning a wave that was meant for someone behind us. Inside jokes make us chuckle because they means something to us, together.
Am I saying leaders have to blithering fools? No. Do they have to be hopped up on whatever it is that Robin Williams is obviously hopped up on? Nope.
I just think it’s a good idea for us not to view laughter and fun so much as the enemy, or even as a necessary evil; but rather look at it as an ally in our struggle to make our workplaces more appropriately human.