Humor in Business

Lightening up the work load

One of the articles in Play & Humor (IC#13)
Originally published in Spring 1986 on page 37
Copyright (c)1986, 1997 by Context Institute

Joe Jenkins spreads the skills and values of mirth through his "Humor Potential Workshops." He can be reached via 3002 30th W, Seattle, WA 98199, or 206/284-8684.

I DON’T THINK YOU HAVE TO BE HUMORLESS TO MAKE A BUCK – actually just the opposite. I’ve been in the advertising business for thirty years and have seen all kinds of companies and the people who run them. In my experience, the most successful ones, and the people I most enjoyed working with, displayed a healthy sense of humor – and many of them made very good money. Especially in service and customer-oriented businesses, a happy firm with a good, positive attitude will have happy employees producing good products and services for customers who like them.

I would like to share with you the five or six important things I discovered about humor and its business potential. Humor has potential for:

  • Improving business communications
  • Improving relationships
  • Building trust and rapport
  • Creating better morale
  • Increasing sales and productivity
  • Laughing on the way to the bank

"Being fun to do business with equates with doing more business," says a successful salesman friend of mine. Think of all the salespeople you know, or who call on you in business. Nearly always the ones you enjoy being around, and the ones who present their products with a professional and light- hearted style, are doing well.

One method of creating better morale in the office/plant is to use humorous signs and posters – on bulletin boards, in cafeterias and other places of high visibility. The most effective occupational safety signs are cartoons such as Herman, Peanuts, Ziggy, and Garfield.

Another method is through the company newsletter. Among the straight stuff, sprinkle cartoons and jokes. Have a "best joke contest."

Joel Goodman suggests circulating an occasional humorous memo from the boss or supervisors. He advises to kid yourself, not the troops, however. If this is well done, it will reap returns with higher morale.

Humor is a valuable part of leadership. Professor Jeffery Goldstein, of Temple University, found that studies on group decision-making showed that people who use more humor tend to wield more influence over group decisions. Good, effective leaders combine communications and persuasion skills with an appropriate touch of humor to get their message across and to win support for their ideas.

"Many meetings start at 8:00 sharp and end at 9:00 dull," says Joel Goodman. A way to raise the energy level is to start the meeting with a song, some humor, or a fun activity. Research has shown that people are far more creative and cooperative after they have been "energized" through forms of appropriate "play."

Take your business seriously, but not yourself. If you’re the boss, or a supervisor, a good sense of humor is vital to your continued success, especially with your subordinates and employees. Getting their trust and support can be accomplished with humor. Make yourself, not them, the butt of your jokes. A little bit of humor-humility will show them that you are human, that you do not put yourself on a pompous pedestal.

What can you do with an impossible, cranky client, or obnoxious fellow employee? How can you change the situation from intolerable to laughable? . . . without losing your job, patience, or self-respect? Humor is the answer. When you’re annoyed, frustrated, or discontented with your boss or management and you can’t quit your job, try a little wit. Remember, "humor bridges the gap between the perfection we seek and the imperfections we’re stuck with." It allows us to change our perspective, look at things differently, take a detached view of situations that might otherwise overwhelm us. And that’s a solid business asset.