Humor Me: Making a Place for Laughter in the Workplace

Nothing is more effective in motivating and de-stressing your team than a good belly laugh . . .

If you're like most executives, you take your job and your business very seriously.  And while that's to be expected, it's also important to find humor in what you do and to encourage your employees to do the same.  Nothing is more effective in motivating and de-stressing your team than a good belly laugh.

If you think I’m joking, consider the numerous studies that show that laughter can stimulate organs, improve your immune system and reduce your perception of pain.  What's more, it can release hormones that increase creativity and awareness.  Clearly, this can be extremely beneficial in the work environment.

You don't have to be David Letterman to infuse humor into your workplace, but you can help create an environment where you look for opportunities to share a funny story or where you can chuckle in commiseration over a difficult situation.  Humor bonds us in a way that builds trust, and you need your staff to have that trust and that desire to work with you.

The days of the stern "command and control" boss are gone.  Instead, effective leaders need to engage their employees emotionally—find ways to connect with them in positive actions so that the employees are motivated to succeed.

Herb Kelleher, the former CEO of Southwest Airlines, was ahead of his time in that aspect.  He helped create a company so different from the stodgy airlines that employees were enthusiastic about coming to work.  You don't have to dress in drag or like Elvis the way Herb did, but he wasn't afraid to let personality and humanity be part of the daily job.  His employees—and Southwest Airlines customers—loved it.

Or, take a look at Zappos, a company where creating fun is one of the core values.  During the online shoe company tours, guests can take a photo while sitting in the official Zappos royalty throne.  Considering that since its start in 1999, Zappos has become the world’s largest online shoe retailer worth $1.2 billion, I'd say they're on the right track.

In a lot of companies, the supervisors and managers are afraid to laugh or joke for fear that they'll lose control of their workforce. But again, that's that old command and control type of management that's trying to resurface. You can't command employees to be motivated—you have to create a workplace where they feel motivated.

Even in the most jovial environments, you're going to have to have serious discussions. And yes, some employee will take your good humor too far.  You will still have to set parameters, but you can't let one person's behavior alter the effectiveness of a positive environment.

As a manager, you need to set the tone and find your own style to create a place that welcomes the shared human experience.  You can do this easily by:

  • Being aware of your daily attitude.  Do you come to work with a smile on your face and a greeting for your staff? Or do you hurry to your desk, too busy, disgruntled and stressed to set the right tone?
  •  Looking for opportunities to share humor.  So what if you're not a comedian? Be on the lookout for situations that make you smile, and share them with others in an effort to make them smile.  You're not trying to embarrass or laugh at anyone, but you’re trying to connect through experiences.
  •  Finding time to celebrate.  Too often we find time to correct or admonish and don't spend equal time commemorating success.  Making time to do so shows your employees how to honor the positives so that they, too, will carry that practice to their own departments.

Sure, you could be a “stick in the mud” and abolish laughter from your department. But since people in happy environments are more creative and productive, why wouldn't you provide that type of workplace instead?  Seriously.