One of the greatest things about being a comedian is that when I go to work, the boss never frowns on too much laughter. In fact, comedy clubs are probably the only workplaces where laughter is equated to professional competence. But in many work environments, making people laugh isn’t held in such high esteem. In fact, in some places it’s a quick way to put yourself in the crosshairs for an early retirement. Why?
Granted, there’s such a thing as taking things too lightly and joking too much. We’ve all worked with people who just can’t be serious no matter what, and that can be pretty frustrating when you’re trying to get the job done. There are times when we need to set the jokes aside and focus on the task at hand.
But for many in our society, the workplace has become a dungeon of doom and gloom, where laughter is associated with insincerity and a lack of professionalism. I worked for a company years ago where one of the vice presidents would routinely slip into the shop floor area and take a quick look around the room. If he spotted anybody laughing, he called the Production Manager to report that people were standing around cracking jokes instead of working. As you can imagine, I got called into the office a few times myself.
I don’t know why this man automatically equated laughter to negligence. If he’d looked a little closer, he would have seen that we were indeed working. The fact is, there are millions of people in this world who are capable of turning a wrench and laughing all at the same time. Some can even chew gum! But I guess he was so miserable in his own existence that he didn’t understand how anybody could enjoy a day at work.
More importantly, he couldn’t see the simple fact that a happy worker is a productive worker. It’s all about a little word called “morale.” Funny, I can’t think of that word without picturing a sign I once saw that read, “The beatings will continue until morale improves.” For some companies, that’s really not a joke.
But a growing number of companies have come to regard a sense of humor as a desirable quality. In fact, with some it’s almost a requirement of the job. Southwest Airlines comes to mind. In an industry chock full of safety regulations, timetables, and nervous customers, they seek out employees who are able to get the job done professionally, but with a genuine sense of humor. And through this recession, Southwest is one of the only airlines that has remained profitable. Coincidence?
Maybe. But consider some other possibilities. Most people actually enjoy laughter, and satisfied customers tend to come back. Also, laughter reduces stress, which has been estimated to cost American companies $300 billion a year in medical costs, absenteeism, reduced productivity, and employee turnover. And at a time when pay and benefits aren’t necessarily keeping pace with increases in the cost of living, a happy employee is a valuable asset. The list goes on.
We can’t all be comedians or clowns, and for each of us there will be times when we need to set the jokes aside and be serious. But hopefully we are also able to share a few laughs on the job, to enjoy the company of our co-workers, and interact with our customers in a way that makes them look forward to seeing us again.
I wish for each of you the chance to work for a company that appreciates the value of a little humor in the workplace. And if you’re the boss … c’mon, lighten up!
Copyright 2011 – Dave Glardon