Chuckle, chuckle: Humor at work

I attended two funerals last week and it got me thinking about humor. From funeral to humor may seem like an odd leap, but have you ever been reminiscing about a deceased person with a grieving family member and ended up sharing a few chuckles and laughs? The mixing of grief and humor can bring on kind of an odd sensation, though it really is remarkable how healing a humorous memory kindly recalled can be. So, as I was thinking about the power of humor in grieving, it reminded me of how important a sense of good natured joviality is to a healthy workplace.

I can imagine some of my human resource colleagues are rolling their eyes and saying, “Gee Darrin, you know there is a fine line between what one employee finds as funny and another employee finds as insulting,” and they are right. So let’s get this clear; by humor I am not talking about making fun of someone’s gender, pigmentation, body shape or making targeted attacks towards a coworker’s ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation. Attacking others for who they are does not make for a productive work environment. As employers, one of our main jobs is to make the workplace safe for all employees to do their jobs; this however does not mean we make it so sterile that co-workers are afraid to say “hello” to each other.

So how do we get a balance between joyless sterility and hostility? Several things go into building a work culture that is courteous, respectful and fun. A good place to start is with the person who looks back at you in the mirror—are you taking yourself too seriously? Most of us are dealing with more demands than we ever have and one of the consequences of this is chronic stress. When we are stressed, we can feel threatened and often take ourselves far too seriously in an attempt to protect our turf, jobs, positions, etc.

When we take ourselves less seriously and are able to laugh at our own shortcomings, we are often at our best in terms of productivity. An example of this was an executive I was coaching. A mid forties ascending star in his organization “brighter than the average bear” kind of guy, he ticked people off as he pushed to get projects done—thereby alienating himself from the people he needed to work with. Somewhere in his ascendency he had lost his ability to laugh at himself and share a laugh with others. Being a smart guy, he recognized that he would soon become a descending star if he didn’t change.

My executive coaching client rediscovered his ability to laugh at himself and gained the insight that self-deprecating humor is not a weakness. He also learned that by laughing at himself he was able to share in others’ laughter—those shared laughs helped his project teams become more resilient and productive.

So as you go about building a healthy workplace, remember it is okay to laugh at yourself—more than okay, laughter is good medicine.

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