Chuck Lauer is on vacation. This column first appeared in April 1994.
Humor in the workplace is essential to good morale, but too many managers really don't understand the critical role it plays. It's such a basic concept, but for some reason its relevance seems to have escaped the intellect of a lot of people-from top executives down. Without humor and laughter, the world wouldn't be a very enjoyable place. Think about it for a moment. What if we seldom heard the giggles of children or that contagious laughter of a good friend? It's all part of life and so essential to our well-being. And that's especially true at our jobs, since work accounts for so much of our time.
As a salesman I've walked into places where you could cut the tension with a knife. I've seen it all. Surly people. Employees with zero morale. People basically not enjoying one of the great privileges of life-working. It shouldn't be that way, but such companies aren't hard to find. Why should this be happening? The blame lies at the top. It all starts with the boss's ego because, as a rule, people with big egos take themselves far too seriously. For them, life is centered around a single letter-I. "I did this" or "I did that" or "I'm responsible for the success of that project." We've all heard these jerks sound off about how important they are and how things would fall apart without them. The words "we" or "us" don't seem to be part of their vocabularies. What they don't understand is that without their colleagues they couldn't accomplish anything.
Humor has everything to do with all this. It may not come out of a textbook and it probably isn't taught at most graduate schools of business. But then it's tough to teach street smarts and common sense, both of which are embodied in having the intelligence to approach life with good humor. Of course I'm not talking about slapstick comedy in the workplace or ill-timed and embarrassing practical jokes-just plain ol' clean fun and a willingness to laugh at oneself and to have the humility to allow others to make you the butt of the joke once in a while.
Look at other companies. Those with leaders who are quick with a smile and show a sense of humor are the ones people want to work for. Nobody wants to work at a place so filled with tension and pressure that there's no joy to be found. Finding ways to have some fun should be encouraged in every place of employment because it's one of the simplest ways to improve productivity. And study after study has found that laughter just might be the best medicine for any situation. If your company is ailing, maybe a little levity is just what the doctor would order.
Sounds so simple, doesn't it? Simple humor and simple humility. But in today's world, where so many leaders think of themselves as powerbrokers, the ideas I'm talking about are hard to implement if the proper environment doesn't already exist in a particular work setting. If you don't work in a place where you're able to have a good time while you're doing your job, get out! No matter what they pay you, life is too short. Go to a place where people enjoy working with each other and where the person at the top leads by example and good humor. Leaders would do well to remember that if their employees can't have fun doing their jobs, their own success is in jeopardy. Then the joke would be on them.
Make time for a little funny business,
Charles S. Lauer