Humor in the workplace

Studies have shown that humor is good for the workplace. But humor in the workplace is something that is hard to define and even harder to get your hands around if you are a manager. There is good sense of humor that helps keep things lighter and adds to problem solving – and then there is bad humor that can undermine team building and get someone written up.

Recently I was the keynote speaker for a managers meeting for a healthcare company. While we were not talking about “Humor in the Workplace”, the audience was very engaged and laughed throughout the whole presentation. One staff member followed up with me and said that their company meetings are always good events, but my talk was so much fun, full of information, and she loved laughing with her co-workers. When employees laugh together it is a bonding experience.  Thus, we should look for humor in the workplace.

Fine line.

I spent most of my life as a bit of a stick in the mud. I did not see my kind of funny as anything others would appreciate. My “ha ha” were much better suited to be kept within my circle of friends. Humor at work seemed like a waste of time and not something that added to the bottom line. I was a serious employee, doing my work. I was scared to let my whole personality come with me to the office.

The type of humor does matter in a working environment. There is a lot of information about “humor in the workplace”, but what does it really mean? People should not just telling jokes (especially ones that might not be appropriate) while in the workplace.

Research shows humor in the workplace is good. People will communicate better. This article on a Wall Street Journal audio podcast said it is good for productivity. “The use of jokes and comedy affects how confident we appear, how productive and creative we are and even how much status we achieve. Brad Bitterly and Maurice Schweitzer of the Wharton School join us with details.” ( https://www.wsj.com/podcasts/what-research-says-about-humor-in-the-workplace/6daac151-8e10-4366-b120-d53e5f7003bb ). People get worried about humor, but it challenges people to think more broadly.

Humor in the workplace is good.  But needs this idea needs to be explored and not cross the line.

My Deep Dive Into Humor

In 2018 I started to explore humor. This came about via being invited to participate at a comedy open mic night by a friend who is an expert in humor and a comedian. In addition to teaching humor tactics, he is a professional in improv and stand-up. My initial reaction to the invite to do an open mic night was to say “NO”. But I have been teaching people to “Try New Things” for sometime (and it is my personal mantra), and this fit the mold of an activity that I needed to attempt.

Since that time I have participated in open mic nights or comedy showcases nearly every week. I have told jokes on comedy club stages and coffee shops all over the country. The learning from my comedy experience has been surprisingly eye opening. My personal “business school” of living my life and trying new things includes a lot of fresh actions, but the world of humor has been the most intense. This has been a huge step toward building confidence. I am changed in my personal and professional life.

Confidence is Powerful

Confidence is a powerful business tool. Too many of us go through our days with some level of impostor syndrome. While most never admit that to their co-workers or managers, self doubt will undermine the ability to excel in the workplace.

Seriously studying humor has impacted my soul. Having been a professional speaker for a decade was not the same experience as doing stand up. I had a lot to learn (I still have a lot to learn). I had no clue what the outcome of my personal commitment to do 100 open mic nights would mean. It has shown me there is a need for “humor in the workplace” (no matter what industry).

My repeat clients have begun to notice a huge difference in my timing and audience interaction in the speeches I am delivering to corporate and association audiences. Additionally, the topic of comedy, taking risks, vulnerability, and humor in the workplace are all now weaved into the topics I am teaching.

“Wow, I Would Never Do That”

The reactions that I get from people when I tell them about my ongoing study of humor, and my weekly attempts at open mic nights and comedy showcases is strangely enthusiastic. People in the audience always want to know more about the backstory of my entrance into comedy. They either want to do stand up or they respond “I would never do that”. Either way they are interested.

As the topic moves to the workplace and how humor in the workplace can impact their job, people always agree that they wish their office had a better collective sense of humor. Managers are more worried that ever in the current political climate about being open to anything that could possibly offend.

But humor does not need to be offensive. Humor in a working environment is really about people being open to the lighter side and not being uptight or worried all the time to speak what they are thinking. However, this must be coupled with respect. Inappropriate is wrong in any situation. We don’t need to tell dirty or sexual jokes to make people laugh or smile. And politics and religion probably should always be off limits, too.

Funny Keynote Speaker

While I have always been a funny keynote speaker, over the the last year my engagement with audiences around this concept of humor has changed. I have discovered in a meetings world where everyone desires more interactions, that we must realize that audience laughter is actually a shared experience and is interaction. (I had a professional speaker argue with glee that she NEVER makes anyone laugh in her speeches and never will. She thinks humor is bad at work. Yikes. No beta endorphins ever released in her talks).

If your company is seeking an engaging and fun presentation, I want to be your speaker. Let’s talk. I want to be your plenary speaker to set the tone for your meeting and help people have a better experience. Together let’s customize a talk that puts humor in the workplace and gets your team excited.

Check out the below episode of my podcast where I talk about what I have learned about business from doing stand up:


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Thom Singer is a funny motivational speaker and professional master of ceremonies / emcee. He is the host of the “Cool Things Entrepreneurs Do” podcast and the author of 12 books. Thom will work with your team to customize his topics to have a strong impact on your conference.