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The Serious Value of Humor at Work

I’m a fan of fun work environments. So of course, I’m also a fan of humor at work.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying we should all pretend to be stand-up comedians. And I’m not talking about snide remarks, disrespectful jokes, or pranks at someone else’s expense. Work is serious business. But does it really need to be so very, deeply serious all the time? I don’t think so.

A touch of humor is a natural way to engage people and lighten the mood. For instance, who doesn’t enjoy taking a moment to bond with a colleague over a funny meme?

In my opinion, sharing a chuckle or a smile with someone keeps us connected at a very human level. And fortunately, I don’t have to look far to find an expert who agrees with me! So join me for this #WorkTrends podcast episode, as I take a look closer at the special power of humor at work:

Meet Our Guest:  David Horning

Today, I’m comparing notes with David Horning, a professional comedian who took the leap from making people laugh on stage to becoming a business consultant. Now he helps others learn how to use positive psychology, communication skills, and humor to manage difficult work situations and enhance organizational culture.

Humor vs. Comedy

First, let’s talk about the word humor. What is it exactly and how is it different from comedy?

Well, humor and creativity are similar in many ways. Humor is a pattern disruptor.

Basically, it is an internal process that lets us be okay with holding two competing thoughts at the same time. Humor allows us to connect those dots in new ways. It connects different ideas. And it also connects similar ideas in new ways.

So basically it disrupts preconditioned thought patterns and introduces new possibilities. Think of it as the crack in the door that allows us to see beyond a circumstance, a challenge, adversity, or even trauma of some sort.

Why Workplace Humor Matters

Do you think humor is playing a more important role in work culture?

Oh definitely. It’s catching on, and with good reason.

Studies show that CEOs prefer employees with a sense of humor. In fact, if you display your sense of humor at work, you’re perceived as being more intelligent, more likable, and CEOs think you’re doing a better job.

Not only that, but employees prefer bosses who don’t take themselves so seriously.

What If You’re Not Funny?

Some people just don’t have a funny bone in their body. What do you tell them when it comes to humor as a vital skill?

Actually, you don’t have to be funny. That’s the great thing about incorporating humor into the workplace. You can appreciate it in others.

Celebrate people who are bringing sunshine into the office – people who are surrounded by laughter – your more creative thinkers.

You can be the most analytical person in the world, but anybody can develop an appreciation for humor, for laughter, for comedy. We all have that capability. All you really need is to give yourself permission to think outside of the box, to think beyond the strict labels we tend to give things.

How Leaders Can Support a Culture of Humor at Work

What advice do you have for a manager who’s unsure about supporting humor at work? 

First, if you’re nervous about it, don’t overwhelm yourself. But keep in mind that when humor is used in the workplace, it should be consistent with your organization’s values.

For example, if respect is one of your values and a joke you’re about to tell isn’t respectful, pump the brakes. Using those shared values as your baseline is a great place to start.

 


For more excellent advice from David about how to tap into the power of humor at work, listen to this full episode. Also, be sure to subscribe to the #WorkTrends Podcast on Apple Podcasts or Stitcher. And to continue this conversation on social media, follow our #WorkTrends hashtag on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.

#WorkTrends: Culture Wins

Two out of three Americans hate their jobs.

That’s a crazy statistic, and it’s one we all want to be on the opposite end of. We want to love going to work — and we want everyone else on our team to love work, too.

This week on #WorkTrends, we’re talking to William Vanderbloemen, author of the new book “Culture Wins: The Roadmap to an Irresistible Workplace.” He’s helping us think through why culture matters so much and how we can all build better ones.

You can listen to the full episode below, or keep reading for this week’s topic. Share your thoughts with us using the hashtag #WorkTrends.

Work Is Family

I thought I could get through 5 minutes of an interview without bringing up the “M” word, but nope — we jumped into a conversation about millennials right away. Vanderbloemen points to the number of workers, by generation, who are available to work. There are a lot of baby boomers and millennials, and much fewer Gen Xers. As the Boomers start to retire, millennials are going to absolutely dominate the workforce. So their preferences about work are only going to become more important in the next 10 years, he says.

“Smart companies are starting to say, ‘What are the things we can learn about this generation? How can we build a workplace that matches them so we can retain them?’”

One thing that’s unique about millennials: They prioritize financial security, but are marrying and having children much later in life. So, Vanderbloemen says, “that means the people they work with are their family. And if they don’t like the people they work with or the place they work, they’re going to go find another family to hang out with.”

Millennials aren’t looking to stay at one organization for 20 years, but finding ways to retain millennial employees for just two years longer than your competition can lead to huge advantages for employers, he says.

Values Trump Fun

We’ve talked before on #WorkTrends about fun at work. So I asked Vanderbloemen: Does fun at work matter? His simple answer: Nope. “If I could rewrite my book, I’d have one more chapter titled ‘Culture Does Not Equal Fun.’ Work is work, and work is where you show up to get things done. A lot of people mistake a winning culture for a place that’s fun.”

When his company won a Best Place to Work award from Entrepreneur a few years back, he was surprised that they took home the top prize even though they had a simple office without bells and whistles like free food or foosball tables. Instead, his team focused on their values.

“We laid out nine clear values of how we function together,” he says. “We’ve hired around it. We’ve reviewed people around it. We compensate around it. We fired people because of it. And it’s created a sense of family. Now, is it fun when you all function the same way? Absolutely, but if fun is the target you’re going to be chasing windmills. Fun is a byproduct of a healthy culture, but it’s not the target.”

Vanderbloemen reverse-engineered his company’s culture to define his team’s core values — or what he calls “defining our kind of crazy.” One of those values is “ridiculous responsiveness.” He realized early on, when he was running his business from a card table, that clients were amazed by how quickly he got back to them. He realized that responsiveness set him apart from the competition, so he made sure to hire only people who were “almost maniacal about getting back to people right away.”

Defining your culture, he says, is all about asking this question: “When we’re at our best, what do we do that’s common to us but uncommon to other teams around us?”

Build a Business Case for Culture

Vanderbloemen has seen the impact culture can have on a team — and on the bottom line. When he was writing his book, he researched more than 100 companies with award-winning cultures. One thing they all had in common: they invest cold, hard dollars in culture every year.

So, how can HR pros make a business case for investing in culture? Vanderbloemen says HR teams have to shift the conversation away from spending and instead focus on how investing in culture will save the organization money and create fewer people problems.

“There’s nothing more expensive to a business than people problems,” he says. He points to one tech company that has two very similar competitors, but they’re much more profitable than those competitors. What sets them apart? They invest 5% of their revenue on culture.

“In the tech industry, turnover is rampant,” he says. This particular tech sector’s churn rate is about 38%. Once the company started spending money on culture, their churn rate dropped to 2%. “So, every year, four people leave instead of 76. That’s 72 vacancies they don’t have to deal with every year. By spending a million dollars on culture, they’ve retained people. They have momentum in their business, less turnover cost, less hiring cost and greater profitability.”

“That’s why we called this book ‘Culture Wins,’” he says. “It’s a way to win in the coming years.”

Continue the conversation. Join us on Twitter (#WorkTrends) for our weekly chat on Wednesdays at 1:30 p.m. Eastern, 10:30 a.m. Pacific or anywhere in the world you are joining from to discuss this topic and more.

#WorkTrends Recap: Why Fun at Work Matters

It’s official: Forced fun is over.

“Let people have the brand of fun that works for them in the context of their culture.”

That wisdom is from Nick Gianoulis, who’s known as “the Godfather of Fun” around his office. He realized years ago when he was planning an employee event that people are looking for ways to connect, celebrate and have fun throughout the work week — not just at huge after-hours company parties once or twice a year. He started The Fun Department to infuse a little fun into the work day.

On the #WorkTrends podcast, he shared how any leader can add more fun to work and keep employees engaged. You can listen to the episode below, or keep reading for a recap.

 

Create Shared Experiences

Here’s the big question: What’s the definition of “fun”? Gianoulis tasked an employee with answering that question. After months of research, the employee came back with bad news: There isn’t a universal definition of fun. Fun is different for every person. But, he found a common thread: People have fun when they share an experience together.

To create those shared experiences, Gianoulis and his team aim to figure out what’s fun for each individual, team and department. And they don’t force anything. “One of the really important elements of this shared experience is that it’s all-inclusive and nonthreatening,” he says. “Someone might just want to observe or cheer their team on. You let people participate at the level they’re comfortable with.”

Here’s an example: One of his clients found that a lot of the company’s employees like dance. Some people might love dancing, others might like watching “Dancing with the Stars.” At 3 p.m. every day, the company takes a dance break.

Follow the Laws of Fun

“‘The Laws of Fun’ sounds like an oxymoron,” Gianoulis says, “but there are some universal truths” to creating fun experiences for people at work.

First: Leaders have to buy in. “When leaders buy in, we’re successful 100 percent of the time. When leaders don’t buy in and we’re trying to force it from the bottom up, it’s only about 50 percent successful, and it might live in one area or department, but it won’t translate to the rest of the organization.”

Second: Remember the “Three Cs”: consistency, company time and compliance. Plan consistent activities. Gianoulis recommends a 15- to 30-minute activity once a month. Have fun on company time — not just after work hours. And make sure the experience is compliant with your overall company culture.

Think Small

Creating fun experiences at work doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive. “We really promote doing things that are small, easy, organic and don’t require expert facilitation,” Gianoulis says.

Let’s say you want to have a company football game. Gianoulis suggests adapting football to a degree where everyone can play. He’d make it a 10- to 15-minute game, with props and supplies that cost less than $100.

“Employees don’t want these big, elaborate team-building events anymore,” he says. Instead, millennials are pushing for a more flexible culture that incorporates fun into everyday moments. And that’s good news for everyone, he says. “It doesn’t matter how old you are, everybody would like to have fun and flexibility at work.”