Yes, there’s a place for humor at work

Yes, there’s a place for humor at work

By Dan Bobinski

Even when your work is serious, who says it can’t be fun? Granted, humor’s use has to be balanced, but the benefits of enjoying humor in the workplace are many, so I want to challenge you to weave just an ounce more of fun into your workplace.

Let’s start with the possibility of reducing workplace stress. Jeff Justice, a motivational humorist, says the ability to take your job seriously but yourself lightly goes a long way in the battle against stress. It doesn’t mean telling jokes all the time, but rather lightening up. Data shows that sick days and turnover are more common in workplaces that have too much negativity, heavy sarcasm and constant nose-to-the-grindstone thinking. So, if you think your workplace could use a lighter tone, consider finding ways to lighten up. Justice says, “A sense of humor can be used for stress reduction, problem solving, team building and improving communications.”

Humor has also been shown to increase employee engagement and productivity. Scott Friedman, a popular speaker and author on workplace issues, says “Humor creates an instant bond.” He says humor removes negative, non-productive feelings and creates a fresh new approach to situations. The idea, according to Friedman, is to laugh about a situation while it’s happening, because it keeps oxygen flowing to the brain which helps people think more clearly.

I happen to agree with Friedman, because humor, even when it’s something I’ve kept to myself, has gotten me through some otherwise stressful situations. With that, I think it wise to think of humor as a type of salt. A little can be good, but too much leaves us with a bad taste in our mouths. And just like some foods benefit from salt and others don’t, the same is true about using humor in workplace situations.

Medical Dealer | Slice of Life | Dan BobinskiIn other words, timing is everything, and I think Friedman’s suggestion to laugh about something while it’s happening has its exceptions. For example, it would not be appropriate to offer up a humorous comment while your organization’s president was announcing layoffs.

As the English poet Samuel Butler once said, “It is tact that is golden, not silence.”

Butler’s admonition is important, because too much humor becomes a burden. One small business owner I know had an employee who inserted a joke or a pun into every situation. Not only was everything a joke to him, but at times his humor was inappropriate, and co-workers got offended. Eventually his excessive use of humor distracted the other employees from being productive, because all they did was anticipate how this guy was going to make a pun or a wisecrack about every little thing that happened. It was clearly a case of too much of a good thing.

Dr. Joni Johnston, the founder and CEO of the consulting firm Work Relationships, offers a few tips for using humor at work:

1. Pay attention to clues about your co-worker’s mood

2. Trust your intuition

3. Take yourself lightly

4. Use humor as the icing, not the cake

5. Avoid playful insults

Johnston says that humor has to be used at the right time, in appropriate amounts, and shouldn’t make fun of an individual. The idea is to always make light of the situation – never a person.

A good example of using humor to make light of a situation is offered by Jeff Justice. He tells the story about a female employee who grew tired of her boss continually rejecting her budget – always sending it back and telling her it needed to be smaller. When she finally got her budget down to absolute bare bones, he still rejected it. Knowing that she couldn’t make it any smaller and still do the work required of her, she took her paperwork over to the copy machine and literally reduced her budget to the size of a postage stamp, then she took it back in to the boss. After they both had a good laugh, her boss gave in and approved her budget.

Workplaces benefit a lot when managers use humor, because it’s managers and leaders who set the tone for any workplace. In fact, Dwight Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander in World War II and two-term President of the United States once said, “A sense of humor is part of the art of leadership, of getting along with people, of getting things done.”

My guess is that if you think back over your career, you probably enjoyed working for managers who employed a light, balanced sense of humor.

Humor also has a lot of value in employee training. As a trainer, I know that the very act of laughing is usually a sign of learning. Think about it: We laugh when we “get” a joke – when we are connecting two or more pieces of information in a new, unique way. But once that connection is made, we don’t laugh anymore because we’ve already learned – we already “got the joke.”

Yet for all of its benefits, it bears repeating that the use of humor must be balanced. And let me add that those in positions of authority must exercise extra caution to avoid offending people.

For those who remain skeptical about the value of humor in the workplace, let me close by stating just a few of the workplace benefits that have been validated through research.

The use of humor improves decision-making and aids in creative problem-solving.

The use of humor reduces absenteeism, increases engagement and improves productivity.

The use of humor diffuses conflict, builds trust and strengthens teamwork.

So here’s my challenge: Consider any area I’ve just mentioned, and then determine one thing you can do differently to improve that area through an increase in the use of humor.

It’s kind of like what Jeff Justice tells us: “He who laughs – lasts!”

Dan Bobinski is a certified behavioral analyst, author of the best-selling “Creating Passion-Driven Teams” and president of He travels internationally helping organizations of all shapes and sizes. Reach him at or 208-375-7606. .