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Humor in the Workplace

How Do You Add Humor and Create a More Fun Work Environment in a Highly Conservative Company?

I frequently hear, “We work in a very conservative company so how can we bring more humor and fun into our workplace when it’s such a conservative environment?”

My answer is always the same: “You can’t. Just give up.”

Okay, I’m joking. (It’s kind of how I roll.)

Of course, you shouldn’t give up! Adding humor into a conservative business or workplace isn’t much different than adding it to any other kind of workplace.

Here are some tips and strategies that can help you add humor to even the most conservative of workplaces.

  1. Challenge your assumptions

Are you certain that more humor in your workplace would be frowned upon, or are you just guessing because it hasn’t gotten a foothold in your workplace yet?

Are you certain your senior leaders would reject any use of humor, or is it just that humor hasn’t ever been on their radar or come up as a topic?

And are you assuming that just because you’re in a conservative industry, that humor has no place?

Don’t assume that just because you are in a supposedly “serious” business there’s no room for more humor.

  1. Redefine what it means to be professional

 Often the frameworks we use to describe elements of our work life and business result in limiting beliefs that need challenging. One common belief is that humor in a business setting is unprofessional.

But is it really?

What if you redefine what it means to “be professional” at work?  What if the most professional thing you can do is to use more humor to connect with employees and customers, to build trust and positive working relationships, and foster a culture that drives better bottom-line business results?

There is, after all, an enormous difference between taking yourself seriously, and taking your work seriously.

Humor in workplace
  1. Clearly define what you are talking about when you introduce the idea of humor at work and focus on your ultimate goal

Be clear about what it is you are advocating: Embracing more humor at work isn’t about telling jokes, being a stand-up comedian, or even always about being funny.

Using humor in the workplace is about embracing a spirit of humanity and spirit of joy. It’s about creating a more positive environment where people feel psychologically safe enough to bring their authentic selves to work and to be able to enjoy and embrace the humor that arises organically in any workplace.

And it’s about laughing with people, never at people. It’s about practicing “safe” workplace humor: using positive styles of humor that support your business goals.

You then need to link this idea of what workplace humor is with our ultimate goals.

Your goal shouldn’t focus on adding more humor into the workplace or figuring out ways that work should be an endless barrel of monkeys.

Instead, focus on the need to create a more positive and productive workplace culture because that is your #1 competitive advantage and driver all other business results.

And focus on the importance of delivering an engaging and memorable customer service experience to your customers.

Always focus on the end results, then introduce the idea of how more fun and humor in your workplace might be one additional way to help you achieve these critical business goals.

  1. Sell the benefits of humor in the workplace to get support from the top

Ideally, you’ll want to get support from the top levels of leadership. And one of the ways to get their support is to champion the many benefits of humor in the workplace and share real world examples of humor in action.

I’ve found in my 25 years of speaking and writing on this topic, nothing does more to convince serious skeptics than sharing example after example of humor in action.

  1. Have an honest discussion about the role humor can play in your business

Put humor on the agenda for an upcoming offsite retreat or team meeting. Nothing will change unless you start the conversation rolling.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be an enthusiastic cheerlead for humor but creating a safe space to talk about it honestly will garner you more support and help bring the skeptics on side.


Two Ladies laughing in the office
Two Ladies laughing in the office
  1. Start slowly

Maybe, just a thought, don’t start by suggesting a bouncy castle in the parking lot.

As with any change, begin slowly. Don’t try to do too much, too fast.

Suggest a few ideas that are easily implementable and most importantly, easy to commit to in the long run. The last thing you want to do is to try a few things that feel like window dressing and that end up fizzling out in a few weeks or months.

  1. Focus on a few key areas that will make the most difference

Here are three starting points that I always recommend.

First, start with your meetings. Meetings are key workplace culture touchpoints. Meetings are a critical venue to help you create your desired culture and more importantly, reflect your desired culture.

A second simple and safe way to add more humor is to create some fun recognition awards for employees that are tied to your profession or workplace.

And thirdly, commit to just one weekly tradition or ritual. Traditions help create a stronger team bond, they build a stronger cultural identity, and create a sense of shared history.

  1. Consider creating a rotating Ambassador of Fun or Culture Squad that can champion and spearhead new initiatives

Many companies have had great success using rotating “fun ambassador” positions, where employees must apply for the role and are given a small budget to initiate some activities. The position rotates to someone new every three months to give more people a chance to contribute their ideas and it prevents people from burning out.

A final word of encouragement. Even if you don’t get support from your senior leadership team, it doesn’t mean that you can’t influence your own department or team.

I can’t tell you how many times I have worked with very conservative clients, where the culture difference between departments within the same company is like night and day.

So don’t be afraid to start within your own team. If you build momentum there and shake up the energy in a positive way, you may just end up infecting your entire company – in a good way!

Michael Kerr is a Canadian Hall of Fame Speaker who is a keynote speaker on inspiring workplace cultures, inspiring leadership and businesses that leverage their humor resources to drive outrageous results! Humor in the workplace is his specialty and he is a humorous conference speaker for your next event

Mike Kerr, keynote speaker can be found at https://www.espeakers.com/s/inft/profile/7509?btsc=1

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