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Let Your Stress Off: Using Humor to Improve Your Work Life

Picture source: Lawley Insurance

Work is often a non-humorous job. Whether we're seriously trying to solve big problems or chasing profits, jokes and laughter often seem out of place. But to actually help us achieve those serious goals, the workplace needs a laugh. Laughter reduces stress and boredom, enhances engagement and happiness, and promotes not only creativity and collaboration, but analytical accuracy and productivity. Laughter serves to create and strengthen social bonds in humans, just like it does with other social animals like chimpanzees. Being funny at work doesn’t mean you have to be the class clown. Here’s some tips to use humor in the workplace to improve your work life:

First, realize that everyone is funny in their own way, and you can both sharpen your sense of humor and learn how to use it more effectively. Many of us worry that since we're not born clowns or comedians, we shouldn't even try to make fun of our co-workers. We worry that our jokes or stories will fall flat. But remember what the research shows: People appreciate almost any kind of levity, provided it’s not hurtful or offensive. And it’s not hard to stay on the right side of that line.

The next step is to get to know your own and others’ humor styles. There are four:

  1. Stand-Up: bold, irreverent, and unafraid to ruffle a few feathers for a laugh. (Example: Wanda Sykes)

  2. Sweetheart: earnest, understated, and use humor that lightens the mood (Example: James Corden)

  3. Sniper: edgy, sarcastic, nuanced — masters of the unexpected dig (Example: Michelle Wolf)

  4. Magnet: expressive, charismatic, and easy to make laugh (Example: (Jimmy Fallon)

Then try a few simple attempts to be funny. One way to do this is to start with a simple observation and then create a false direction to reveal the "unusual" you notice. For example, if something makes you laugh from afar - such as realizing that you don't know what everyone in a home video conference is wearing below their belts - you can use a technique called the rule of three, creating a short list with a final, unexpected list item.

You can also use small everyday communications like out of office replies and email signatures, which enrich the fabric of your workplace in a simple and risk-free way. A few that made us laugh included "I'm overseas with the most unstable wifi I've ever experienced... I'll pick you up on July 10th when I'm back in New York where the data is flowing like an underground spring,” “Sincerely, lots of caffeine,” and “I still wonder who let the dogs out,” following the pet’s surprise appearance in the latest Zoom Group. Another technique: the encore section, in which you joke about a funny incident earlier.

Humor may seem like a kind of magic, but it can be learned. All of us, especially leaders, depend on bringing more of these to our workplaces to improve our health, team performance, and even our company’s bottom line. Now more than ever, it's time to value humor.

Source: Harvard Business Review, Forbes, Greater Good Magazine

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