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Workplace Humor Is NOT an Oxymoron© or How to Create a Positive Workplace
By Sandra Jones Campbell   Printer Friendly Version

The Dilbert Syndrome seems to have taken over America's workplace. Fulfillment once found in work has been replaced with dread (at best) and not a little cynicism. More and more workers burn out and many go "postal." Workers are exhausted and tired of feeling under, if not totally unappreciated.

The bookstores and managers' bookshelves are filling up with books like Jim Harris' Getting Employees to Fall in Love with Your company, or Bob Nelson's, 1001 Ways to Reward Employees and 1001 Ways to Energize Employees. These books are in response to management's desire to help employees while maintaining or improving the bottom line.

One vital ingredient is to create an environment or culture which promotes enthusiasm, energy and fun, i.e., we need to encourage "positism" and humor at work.

"Positism" is a term I coined that refers to looking at life through optimistic lenses, seeing the silver lining and squirting back when life gives you lemons. Humor comes from the root word, "umor", which means to be fluid or flexible. Both a positive attitude and the ability to be flexible are important in times of change.

In a Hall and Associates survey of Personnel Executives, 84% said that workers with a sense of humor do a better job.1 They are more valued in the workplace. Other benefits of humor include fewer sick or mental health days, fewer accidents, thus lower workers' comp cases and increased creativity. Look how the list below stacks up in favor of fun.

Benefits of Humor

  • immune system - improves health
  • your value at work
  • relaxation
  • anger, tension
  • stress reactions
  • exercises lungs, cardiovascular system
  • positively points out minor annoyances
  • creativity
  • bonds
  • pain
  • depression, mood
  • physical/psychological tension
  • puts things in perspective

To get the full benefits from humor it needs to become a habit. Concentrations of IgA increase just from watching a 1-hour humorous video, but the enhancement effects are short-lived.2 We need to cultivate a sense of joy continuously. Read over the following lists. Consider which activities would bring you joy, which ones are appropriate in your workplace and family life. Make your own list of things that make you laugh or incidents from the past that still bring a chuckle.

In the Car:

  1. Look around you--read the bumper stickers.
  2. Keep a clown nose or better yet clown hair in the car. When traffic and people are "snarly," put one or both on. Believe me, they are more likely to smile at you than shoot you! And they may even let you in the lane.
  3. Listen to humorous or affirmation tapes or upbeat music. Don't forget to sing along.
  4. Read a joke or positive-saying book while stopped in traffic.
  5. Use a stress squeeze ball to work out the pressures of the day-but only when stopped in traffic. May be hazardous if done while driving!

In the office:

  • Keep a stress squeeze ball in your desk. This is especially handy to use when on long phone calls.
  • Have a joy jar on your desk. Fill it with positive, success-oriented sayings, appropriate jokes and candy.
  • Use a daily joke or positive calendar instead of a plain one and READ it!!
  • Use a nerf bat and ball to work out frustrations.


    In lounges, copy rooms or other communal spots:

    1. Put up a Humor/Rumor Board. Make certain everyone knows what appropriate humor is first.
    2. Name the office equipment. Talk to it.
    3. Keep bubbles, coloring books and crayons and other childhood toys available for play while copies are being run.
    4. Copy someone's hand using the copier. Type on it: "Need a pat on the back? Stand here." Tack the sign on a wall where everyone can lean against it for their "pat on the back."
    5. In rest rooms, put up signs that say "Looking Good!" Post either on the mirrors or backs of stall doors.


  • In meetings:

    1. Wear or provide for the group funny hats, deely-boppers, masks, or sunglasses.
    2. Place tent cards on tables with positive sayings, words of wisdom from famous people.
    3. Provide bubble gum or lollipops. It's hard to be negative when folks are blowing bubbles at each other or licking lollipops. When available, provide ice cream cones or frozen yogurt. When people are licking in an up and down motion, it is difficult to be in a negative mode.
    4. Place cans of silly string or water-filled squirt guns in the center of the table--just see what joy erupts!
    5. Give each participant a small can of silly putty to work out their frustrations during the meeting. It's often fun to inquire what the meaning of their handiwork is at the meeting's conclusion.
    6. Make a magic wand that you can use to emphasize how you'd fix things if you could.
    7. Play music or funny audio or video tapes before the meeting starts.
    8. Have small jars of bubbles at each place and allow everyone to blow bubbles.

    As with communication and leadership styles, each person, each organization has it's own humor style. This is a combination of what is funny to the individual and what is appropriate for the setting.

    Individuals and corporation that lighten up also light up the bottom line. Humor is serious business. It is time business took humor seriously. For higher productivity and profits, try laughing all the way to the bank!

    1Green, L. (1993). Making sense of humor. Manchester, Connecticut: KIT, 117.
    2Dillion, K.M., et al. (1985). Positive emotional states and enhancement of the immune system. International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine, 5, 13-18.
    Lefcourt, H., et al. (1990). Humor and immune system functioning. International Journal of Humor Research, 3, 305-321.
    Berk, L.S., et al. (1991). Immune system changes during humor associated with laughter. Clinical Research, 39, 124A.
    McClelland, D.C., et al. (1985). The Effect of an academic examination on salivary norepinephrine and immunoglobulin levels. Journal of Human Stress, 11, 52-59.

    © 2000. This material is copyrighted. Reproduction or transmittal in any form without the written permission of the author, Sandra Jones Campbell, Ph.D. is prohibited.

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