Does Humor Belong in the Workplace?

All work and no play make Jack, well, a bad worker. In a recent interview with Forbes online, Steve Cody, co-founder and managing partner of a communications agency based out of New York, explains how comedy has enriched his professional performance. After taking a class on stand-up comedy, Cody began to notice he was listening more closely to his clients and capturing the attention of his business audiences. Now he leads a comedy workshop for new recruits and staffers in his agency every two month. “[Humor] infuses them with confidence…teaches the nuances of reading an audience and environment, and livens up their presentations,” Cody said.

Cody has the numbers on his side—an analysis of more than 200 academic studies revealed happy employees had 37% higher sales and were 31% more productive, overall. Happy doctors diagnosed patient ailments 19% more accurately and faster than their grumpier peers. Business teams with happy members received higher customer satisfaction ratings and were considered better workers by their boss. So what’s causing all those silly people to be better at their jobs? According to psychologist Michelle Gielan, when we smile or laugh, dopamine is released into our body systems, which raises our level of creativity, productivity, and engagement.

Besides making us all worker-bees, humor can facilitate trust and bond people to one another. This is key in integrating a new employee into your business culture, an essential factor in employee retention. And what happens to a company with lots of delighted employees? The company receives more potential clients, who are eager to work with them and get in on all this happy business.

Now before you pull out the Whoopee cushion and squirting bowtie, be mindful that humor is only good in the workplace when it doesn’t hurt. Refrain from singling co-workers out and jokes that can be taken as racist, sexist, or ageist. And while humor should be a welcome and necessary facet of your business, it should never come at the cost of your firm’s professionalism. The time and place for corny jokes is at the annual holiday party, not the new client pitch presentation. Which reminds me: a three-legged Labrador limps into a bar and says to the bartender, “I’m looking for the man that shot my paw!”

Ok, so my humor is pretty rough. I can hear the dogs outside howling at that one. I’ll (happily!) work on it.

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