When was the last time you left a business and vowed never to return because the employees were having too much fun? Okay, when was the last time you went into a business and everybody was laughing and having fun? It doesn’t happen very often, does it?
I used to work for a small manufacturing company. We were having a difficult time making our machines work correctly and, as a result, production had just about ceased. It was a stressful time, and everybody was trying anything possible to solve the problem.
One day I was called into a meeting to discuss the issue. The air was thick with tension, and everybody was afraid to speak. Finally I offered a playful suggestion – “Let’s all meet at midnight Friday and drag dead cats through the graveyard.” It was an awkward reference to a scene in Tom Sawyer when Tom and Huck were trying to rid themselves of warts. And it drew an immediate reaction from the Vice President of Engineering. “Leave.”
I apologized and explained that I was just trying to ease the tension. He repeated his demand. “I said leave.” At that point, I wasn’t sure if I was being told to leave the room or leave the company. I went to my manager and told him what happened. He flipped. “You said what??? Oh my God! Are you insane?”
Well, maybe I am. There’s this little voice inside me that says people need to lighten up and laugh every now and then. It’s good for your body, your brain, and your soul. Granted, my timing wasn’t perfect. That’s often the case, but the willingness to be wrong every now and then has gotten me through situations that might have turned out much worse. When stress is at its highest, that’s when we need laughter the most.
I’ve been on several job interviews where the hiring manager told me, “Around here we work hard and play hard.” That’s a nice philosophy, isn’t it? But in too many cases, what it really means is, “Around here we work hard. Then you can go home and do whatever you want with the few hours that are left in your life, as long as it doesn’t affect you tomorrow.” Sorry, I call ‘em like I see ‘em.
There’s this general belief in the corporate world that if people are smiling and laughing they’re not getting the job done. And nothing could be further from the truth. The fact is, our bodies respond to laughter with a burst of energy and the instant release of chemicals that kill pain and fight stress. And an energetic worker gets more done in less time, and with a higher level of quality than the worker who is stressed out and feeling trapped in a job that pays the bills but offers little in the way of satisfaction.
It’s been proven that when people are laughing, they learn faster and retain knowledge longer. That’s why most public speakers start their presentation with a joke. It relaxes the audience, draws them to you, and makes them want to hear more. And in the case of my pastor, we just shake our heads and groan. But it still lightens the mood and makes for a better sermon.
“Ah, but fun and games would be inappropriate in our workplace.” I hear that all the time. Okay, if you work in a funeral home, maybe. But consider this. Three years ago I had a medical test that involved a lighted camera being placed where the sun doesn’t shine. Use your imagination. Sound like a place for fun and games?
I waited almost two hours past my scheduled time because the doctor had been called in for emergency surgery the night before, and was going on a few hours’ sleep. Finally she showed up, completely exhausted. Just as the drugs started to flow, she said, “Hold on – I have to run out to my car and get my CDs. I can’t do this without music.”
I assume she washed her hands again when she returned. I can’t say for certain, because I was visiting another planet. But I do remember the doctor and both nurses cracking jokes with one another the entire time, to the point that I started joking with them. Well, I think I did. It seemed funny to me anyway.
After the procedure, the nurse told me how much she enjoyed working with this doctor because “it’s like going to a party.” So here’s my question. If a respected professional with an advanced medical degree can play rock music and joke around with her assistants as they examine the inner workings of my digestive system, where could you possibly work that playfulness and a sense of humor is so inappropriate?
And here’s the kicker. It’s not up to the boss to make us enjoy our day. It’s up to each of us to lighten up and find some level of amusement in an otherwise mundane existence. Let’s face it, they call it “work” for a reason. But it’s where we spend a full forty percent of our waking hours each week. Doesn’t it stand to reason that we should try to enjoy it just a little?
If you work for a company where fun and laughter are completely taboo, find someplace else to work. It’s that simple. Why spend nearly half your life in dismal monotony? But if the rules are flexible, try bending them a little. Others may join in and you may all find yourselves having a good time. And if you seem to be the only person who isn’t having fun, then we need to talk. Because there’s a kid inside each of us begging to come out. We just have to open the door.
Copyright 2011 – Dave Glardon
Well, I always knew you had “great” timing but that one’s pretty good. I’ve done a lot of stupid things at work – most got laughs- but I have never been thrown out of a meeting! There were a few meetings I wish I could have been thrown out of and now I’ll know how to do it!
See, just follow my lead. I’ll have you happily unemployed in no time!
Oh Dave, you’re preaching to the choir here. Gotta laugh or you could spend a lot of time crying over things you can’t change. Love it. Could we send that to every high school principal in Texas? Laughter and noise was always coming out of my classroom. Guess that’s why he thought I only taught “playing.”
Jody, I say let’s send this to every high school principal, every college dean, every corporate manager, and every politician in the country. Eh, never mind. They’d just find a way to screw it up.
Yes!! You’ve got it right! That’s why I work in a theme park for minimal wages. We’re expected to have fun with guests. In fact, we are given a reminder, if we don’t play.
Sounds like my kind of place! Do they have any openings for a middle-age clown like me???
I worked at a funeral home and we joked all the time – just not around the customers (well the breathing ones. The ones already in the boxes didn’t seem to mind our jokes.)
Great piece! Lots of wisdom and humor!
Marti, my father-in-law was a mortician so I know exactly where you’re coming from. Oh, the stories I could tell!
I had 13 years of experience as an archaeologist, which was probably one of the funniest places immaginable because we lived in holes in the ground and drank beer at lunch. When I went into social work after drumming myself out of grad school for some ethical reasons, it took me a long time to abandon the yuks. I too was askked to leave at least twice that I know of – one time for sexual harrassment of all things. Even after 20 years in the “helping professions,” I still blurt out stuff that ought to have been left unblurted.
Nicely done, Dave
What can I say Mike? Nothing ventured, nothing gained. I think we’re all guilty of blurting out things we should have kept to ourselves, but the only safe alternative is to never say anything, and that’s just not acceptable in my book. I’d rather deal with the occasional goof-up than go through life without even trying.