Humor in the Workplace: It’ll Get You Through Pretty Much Anything

Author: Ben Schemelin, Account Executive

Earlier this year I was blessed to be sharing some laughs with friends and former colleagues while we attended a retirement party for one of my mentors. We recalled humorous stories from two decades ago – jokes, crazy circumstances, our various quirks – so many fond memories came rushing back.

As we departed with full hearts and our sides aching from laughter, my friend handed over one last piece of business (and life) wisdom from his four decades in the industry: “You know, as stressful as our business can be, laughter will get you through pretty much anything.”

As I walked to my car that evening, I started to reflect on how critical laughter and joy is to a thriving workplace environment.

Humor in the Workplace – The Benefits

It is no secret that strong communication is critical to any successful business. For anyone who has had to sit through a dull presentation, it’s probably safe to say that your mind started to wander and your retention of the information being communicated began to fade with each passing moment. Compare that experience to one where a masterful storyteller wove an engaging narrative mixed with humorous anecdotes. It becomes easy to see how our natural deeper engagement in an entertaining storyline facilitates our ability to pick up other important details along the way. The same principle applies in other communications we engage in: the right mix of humor will draw people in and ideas are more easily absorbed.

There are numerous studies that show that a healthy dose of humor actually increases brain function, boosts creative problem solving, deepens interpersonal connections, builds trust/collaboration, and breaks down barriers between individuals just to name a few of the additional benefits.

Leaders who utilize humor effectively in their roles often foster healthier work cultures where employees are more at ease, have higher morale, and are more productive overall.

Laughter Really is the Best Medicine

The world renowned Mayo Clinic sites the researched physical and physiological stress relief that laughter has on our bodies. Our organs (namely heart, lungs, and brain) all see immediate, tangible benefits from a good amount of regular laughter. Tension and stress decrease as our bodies respond to humorous stimuli in the form of decreased heart rates and lower blood pressure.

The chemical response of our bodies over time to a humor-and-joy lifestyle can lead to improved immunity, natural pain relief, better coping stills, improved outlook on life, and deeper and richer connections with those around us.

In today’s crazy world, doesn’t that sound like a great prescription for a better, more fulfilling life?

Workplace Humor 101

With all of these benefits, there are some practical application items that we should all keep in mind:

  • Know Your Audience – The ability to “read the room” is key for any comedic endeavor. In my early 20’s I cracked a “Dumb & Dumber” type of joke at lunch during my first week of employment, and my two new colleagues looked at me like I had a horn growing out of my head. They didn’t know me, and I didn’t know them well enough – so it landed awkwardly. It may have gotten a chuckle six months down the road when we had an established rapport, but it’s always best to err on the side of caution if you think a wisecrack may not resonate with your audience.
  • Don’t Force It – Like the example above, don’t try to make a joke simply for the sake of being funny. Unless the sign outside your office reads “The Improv” – you are not being paid to be a comedian trying out cutting edge humor on colleagues. The best workplace humor should come organically and feel natural.
  • Laughing With, Not At – Self-deprecating humor can show you are relatable and do not take yourself too seriously, but humor at the expense of others is a completely different story and should be avoided. It’s always best for humor to be pointed at situations rather than people.
  • Keep it Clean – If you would not say something if HR happened to be walking past your office, it’s probably best to leave a quip on the cutting room floor of your brain.

Humor, laughter, and finding joy in the workplace every day can be an important pillar of a thriving business culture – as well as increasing job satisfaction. It’s one of the many aspects of Nahan’s culture that I’ve quickly come to appreciate and cherish.

It’s been said that the average 4 year old laughs 300 times a day, while the average adult laughs less than 20. I’d say it’s time for us to rediscover the simpler joys that can be found in our everyday lives!

What is one thing you can do to can bring an extra smile or laugh to someone in your workplace? Do it today – and make it a daily habit!

Bio: Ben Schemelin is a 28-year industry veteran and an Account Executive with Nahan. He’s passionate about taking a 40,000 foot view of projects, and then zooming in on the finite details to creatively problem solve, enhance workflows, and most importantly serve clients’ wants and needs above their expectations as a team. In his spare time, Ben enjoys motorcycling, grilling/cooking, woodworking, camping, fishing, & biking. He also likes cheering for the Green Bay Packers, much to the chagrin of his diehard Minnesota Viking-fan wife and daughter.