The value of (appropriate!) humor at work is impossible to overstate. It makes us more likeable and trustworthy, fosters our creativity, defuses tense situations, facilitates communication, and can even boost a company’s bottom line.
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”. And former American President Dwight D. Eisenhower said: “A sense of humor is part of the art of leadership, of getting along with people, of getting things done”.
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”. Another study by Fabia and Associates found that people with a better sense of humor tended to get bonuses and promotions more often – a very attractive side effect!
Humor benefits employees at every level
No matter where they are in the office hierarchy, people who use humor at work are more productive, less stressed, happier – and better paid. Humor improves employee morale and retention because employees look forward to coming to work, says Lynn Taylor, workplace expert, author, and “empowerment zealot”. “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. 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.”
Humor makes people and companies more productive
“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. It’s obvious that if you work in a cheerful atmosphere, you’ll have more passion for what you do. And as everyone knows, enthusiasm is contagious.
Taking humor seriously is essential, whether you’re just beginning your career or whether you’re an established business leader. A good sense of humor makes you more approachable and open and encourages those around you to respond in kind. And the more accessible and open we all are, the more successful and innovative our teams will be.