American author Mark Twain called humor “man’s greatest blessing”. For psychologist Edward de Bono, “It is by far the most significant activity of the human brain”. Activist Aung San Suu Kyi, who spent 15 years under house arrest, says it is “one of the best ingredients of survival”.
The value of humor is impossible to overstate. It makes us more likeable and trustworthy, fosters our creativity, defuses stressful situations, facilitates communication, and can even boost a company’s bottom line.
In fact, study after study proves that a sense of humor is essential for business success.
A survey conducted by Robert Half International showed that 91% of executives believe a sense of humor is important for career advancement, and 84% think that people with a good sense of humor do a better job. Another study by the McClelland Centre for Research and Innovation found that executives considered to be “outstanding” use humor more than twice as often as those considered to be just “average”. And a Hodge Cronin and Associates survey of more than 730 CEOs found that 98% of them would rather hire someone with a good sense of humor than someone equally talented but with a more serious demeanor.
The Everyday Benefits of Humor
From the mailroom to the C-suite, people who use humor at work are more productive, less stressed, happier – and better paid. Humor boosts morale and retention while reducing turnover because employees look forward to coming to work, says Lynn Taylor, workplace expert and author of Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant. “Employees like to work for and with others who have a sense of humor. We all prefer to have fun at work. It should not feel like an indentured servitude environment.”
Humor humanizes us as well, says Taylor. “Humor allows both employees and managers to come together, realizing that we all seek common ground”. A good sense of humor helps us to de-dramatize problems, making them less intimidating and thus easier to solve. It’s a great tension-breaker. We don’t have to crack jokes all day, adds Taylor, “but well-placed humor that is clever and apropos to a business situation always enhances an employee’s career.”
“You can’t be serious!” is the credo of Mike Kerr, international business speaker and author of The Humor Advantage: Why Some Businesses are Laughing all the Way to the Bank. For Kerr, humor is vital to a progressive, innovative, open company culture. It keeps people balanced, helps build strong teams, makes managers more effective, and makes meetings more productive. “Humor in meetings encourages participation, minimizes conflicts, helps people retain information, opens up dialogue and sparks creativity.”
How Humor Boosts Creativity – and Productivity
“Humor is a key ingredient in creative thinking,” says Kerr. “It helps people play with ideas, lower their internal critic, and see things in new ways.” Humor and creativity both involve seeing our challenges in fresh ways and making connections we’ve never thought of before. Lynn Taylor agrees, saying humor “establishes a fertile environment for innovation because people are more inspired when they are relaxed.”
Humor can also help companies by increasing productivity. It creates an optimistic atmosphere that encourages interaction and brainstorming, where employees know their suggestions will be valued rather than ignored. And that leads to greater productivity. As Taylor explains, “It also stands to reason that if you’re in a more jovial atmosphere, you’ll have more passion for what you do. Your work ethic will increase, and your enthusiasm will likely be contagious. It’s a win-win for you and your employer.”
Whether you’re just beginning your career or whether you’re an established business leader, a good sense of humor will make you more approachable and open and encourage the people around you to respond in kind. And the more accessible and open we are, the more successful and innovative our teams will be.
In the words of the great Jimmy Buffet, “Humor has bailed me out of more tight situations than I can think of. If you go with your instincts and keep your humor, creativity follows. With luck, success comes, too.”