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When I was a little girl, my grandfather would tease me — relentlessly. As I was very young and my humor function was not well developed, I didn’t get it.
“Papa doesn’t like me,” I cried to my mother and grandmother. “He’s always making fun of me.”
“Of course he likes you,” they would respond. “That’s how you know, by the way he teases you. He doesn’t tease anyone else like that.”
Their solution was simple: When he teases you, tease him back. If he gets mad, then you’re right — he doesn’t like you. But if he laughs, you’ll know that he cares.
So one day, I was maybe four years old, Papa tried to “zing” me. And I came right back at him with a zing of my own.
I had never seen him laugh so hard in all of my four years of life.
Perhaps it all started then, my preoccupation with making people laugh. And while I learned as I got older how to “read the room” and fit my jokes to the situation (at least, as best as I could), I’ve always been at least a tad concerned when it came to humor in the workplace. Would they laugh? Would I get in trouble? Would I be seen as "less than"?
It turns out that perhaps my concerns were (mostly) unfounded.
In his new book, Humor That Works: The Missing Skill for Success and Happiness at Work, Andrew Tarvin explains that there are a fair number of studies that indicate humor in the workplace — when used appropriately — is a gamechanger, and in more ways than one.
For instance, Tarvin notes that 83% of Americans are stressed at work, 55% are unsatisfied with their jobs and 47% have trouble staying happy. These factors lead to increased absenteeism, decreased employee engagement, higher turnover and, of course, lower productivity. All of those things add up to costing companies money, not to mention a nearly $1 trillion hit to the economy.
All because employees are not having fun.
Furthermore, it turns out that managers actually prefer candidates with a sense of humor. Tarvin points to one survey of over 700 CEOs that showed 98% of them would choose a candidate with a sense of humor over someone who was more serious.
Tarvin also questions what the remaining 2% are thinking and hypothesizes that they must be T-1000 robots sent from the future to take the fun out of the world. All jokes aside, he may have a good point.
And while Tarvin is quick to concede that there is a line that must be respected — the line between appropriate and inappropriate, for example — injecting a little humor, a little fun, never hurt anyone. In fact, it often helps, as laughing releases serotonin, which helps one feel happier. Happier employees are more productive. They don’t call in sick as much. They’re healthier. And the likelihood of them quitting due to stress declines.
We live in a time of fast-paced, high-stress everything. And we often struggle to find balance, especially when it comes to work. And our mental health suffers as a result. So, doesn’t it make sense to find a way to lighten things up a bit?
Tarvin’s book, in addition to being hilarious, offers some sage advice on how to up the fun in an organization. It even provides a “how-to,” of sorts, for those who think they aren’t that funny. Take “Humor Strategy #5: Engineer Surprise.” Of the five methods listed, the first one, “Get Visual,” immediately grabbed my attention. He tells the story of his brother, a professor at Texas A&M University, who always wears weird socks to his classes. The students tease him, but also obviously enjoy his wardrobe choices. This brought to mind Scott Cawood, WorldatWork’s CEO, who always wears something a little off-beat.
Don’t even get me started on the WorldatWork suit.
Personally, I know that I am at my best when my workplace gives me the freedom to be my jokester self. And I applaud Tarvin for promoting the idea that work does not have to equal boring. I fully concur with the review placed on the book’s front cover:
Because if his mom said it, it must be true.
About the Author
Stephanie N. Rotondo is a writer/editor at WorldatWork.