Here are 8 simple guiding lights to consider when putting humor to work in any type of organization:
Take Yourself Lightly
Too many of us fall victim to the dreadful disease “acute professionalism.” The symptoms include a furrowed forehead, high levels of stress and blocked creativity. The cure is simple – learn to take yourself lightly, while still taking your job seriously.
When practicing humor it’s important to be authentic. Our sense of humor is as unique as our fingerprints, so practice humor that reflects your own personality. And be tolerant of the different types or styles of humor around you.
Think Small and Simple
The biggest factors that contribute to employee morale don’t cost a lot of money or take a lot of energy; it’s the small things done on a consistent basis that matter. So look for easy opportunities to introduce a little humor – put up a humor bulletin board, create a humor room (Kodak Eastman and Hewlett Packard have them) include humorous quotes in correspondence and practice spontaneous humor (which as stand-up comedians will tell you, is the most effective form of humor).
Practice Relevant Humor
The more you celebrate humor specific to your office, team or organization, the more meaningful the humor is. Relevant, work-related humor can easily become part of your organization’s history and help teams bond around shared experiences. Start collecting a humor file of quotes, cartoons, funny customer questions and anecdotes that relate to your organization.
Practice Safe Humor
Humor can break down barriers as easily as it can builds walls, so make sure the style of humor you practice is “safe”. Non-sexist, non-racist, non-religious humor is the order of the day. Cynical humor, sarcastic barbs, humor that detracts from the work at hand or humor that smothers creativity by laughing at new ideas should be avoided at all costs. And beware of e-mail humor: as many humorists have noted the written word does not smile. Without the benefit of facial expressions or tone of voice, e-mail humor can fall flat and easily lead to confused messages. To encourage the practice of safe humor develop a set of “Humor Guidelines” that clearly lays out what type and style of humor is expected. And what’s the safest form of humor? Laughing at yourself. When you laugh at yourself you take away everyone’s ability to laugh at you.
Hire for Humor
If you want to lighten up the office then recruit people with a positive sense of humor. Southwest Airlines, recipient of a Humor in the Workplace award, hires for humor, regardless of whether it’s a front line customer service agent or mechanic, so that every employee will fit their unique corporate culture. Even NASA has suggested that one of the most important attributes of future astronauts will be a great sense of humor.
Make Fun a Priority
It’s easy to agree with the idea that we need to have more fun in our organizations, after all it’s one of those feel good, motherhood statements. There’s only one problem – this little thing called “life” keeps getting in the way. So if you’re going to take humor seriously then treat it like any other priority – tie into your mission statement (the corporate motto for Grimes Aerospace based in Columbus, Ohio, is “Growth, Profit and Fun”), list fun as one of your core values, offer training in workplace humor, include it in goals and work plans, and yes, evaluate it every now and then by asking the simple, yet all important question – “Are we having fun yet?
Give Yourself and Each Other Permission to Play
This last guiding light may be the most important one of all. There are literally hundreds of ideas for ways to add a little fun or humor into any office, the key to opening the door to these ideas is simply giving yourself the green light to play. Remind yourself and each other that it’s not only okay to have fun, it’s absolutely necessary. Post reminder slogans around the office (“Lighten Up!”), circulate your Humor Guidelines and above all else don’t be a barrier to fun or creative ideas. If you give each other permission to play and have fun on a regular basis – the rest will be child’s play.
Editor’s note, this post was originally published Feb 4, 2011.