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Just Kidding: Humor at Work

HumorI bought the world’s worst thesaurus yesterday. Not only is it terrible, it’s terrible.

I recently read a CGMA Magazine article which reported that more than 75 percent of CFOs in an Accountemps survey said that an employee’s sense of humor was very or somewhat important for fitting into the company’s corporate culture. I was intrigued by this and inspired to do a little more research on the importance of comedy in the workplace and what I could be doing to add a little levity to my remit. Here’s what I found:

  • There’s a reason we call funny people “witty;” a good sense of humor makes you appear more competent and confident
  • Research suggests that teams who joke more, communicate better (WSJ)
  • It matters what “kind” of funny you are, always be authentic and humble (HBR)
  • Use the right medium; humor rarely goes well over email (CGMA Magazine)
  • It’s OK to tell an unfunny joke; it’s not OK to tell an inappropriate joke (HBR)

Clearly, humor at work is well studied and well documented to be one of the keys to career success. But there’s a reason we’re not all Will Ferrell in our workplaces: It’s easier to fail with humor than to succeed.

So, just how can we add a dose of humor to our jobs? What does successful workplace comedy look like in practice? I reached out to our members and Association staff, and tapped into some examples of public figures who successfully incorporate comedy into their daily work to find out.

My twice-monthly Toastmasters meetings, Joel Osteen’s televised sermons (watched by more than 7 million Americans weekly), and Bret Johnson’s weekly staff meetings all have one thing in common: They start with a joke.

“Telling a joke is a positive distraction,” said Bret, Director of Channel Management and Development, Association of International Certified Professional Accountants. “It allows those who may be a bit more introverted to feel more comfortable when they hear someone taking a risk at the beginning of the meeting.”

Although humor has always been a part of Bret’s personality, incorporating it into his job took some time. “It’s a skill that I’ve honed,” he said. “I was not as successful with humor when I was younger.” But Bret is careful to explain that even humor that falls flat helps to achieve the goal of bringing a team of people closer: “Using humor is like using a singing voice: Even if it fails, people will respect you for trying.”

David Davis, CPA, CGMA, Controller/CFO of Loftness Specialized Equipment in Hector, MN, provided an example of how a culture of humor helps his office, management and professional staff get along. “One of our product managers was overheard in the restroom talking to a potential customer on his cell phone. The office staff promptly declared him ‘employee of the month’ for his dedication to his job and gathered others around to applaud and cheer him as he came out of the restroom! Don't get me wrong, we are very professional, work hard and tackle difficult decisions and projects head-on. For us, humor helps establish and maintain a level of friendship and kindness among us that, I believe, allows us to work so well together as one big team.”

So how can we all add a little humor to our day jobs? Well, for one, be mindful. “Take a risk in a way that's more formulaic. Say, ‘I'm going to tell you a joke’ and even read it off a sheet of paper,” said Bret. “Be purposeful, make a plan and make it clear that you're attempting to use humor. It can be infectious.”

Chrissy Jones, MBA, Manager--Communications and Member Engagement, Association of International Certified Professional Accountants

Laughing with colleagues courtesy of Shutterstock.


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