Five ways to put humour front and centre at work

People who can see the funny side of life are more creative and effective, according to survey of vice-presidents and personnel directors

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 27 September, 2015, 7:56am
UPDATED : Sunday, 27 September, 2015, 1:56pm

I've been working in the financial services industry for more than 27 years and I've learned that leaders and people with a sense of humour are the most productive, most respected and typically run the most engaged workforce.

Why? Well, aside from the obvious fact that it's probably more fun, employees with a sense of humour are more effective on the job than people with little or no sense of humour. This is according to 84 per cent of vice-presidents and personnel directors in 100 of the largest American corporations who were surveyed in the 1980s by recruitment agency Robert Half International.

"People with a sense of humour tend to be more creative, less rigid and more willing to consider and embrace new ideas and methods," the survey said.

Still, many companies - and individuals - believe work and fun should never be mixed. They couldn't be more wrong.

Leaders and organisations cannot just worry about efficiency. People have emotions, personalities and paranoia about what other people might think of them. Efficiency doesn't work for people - it works for processes.

Dr Yue Xiao-dong, associate professor at City University's department of applied social sciences, says: "Humour, according to psychologists, is a playful frame of mind that gives individuals a feeling of well-being, better thinking skills and pain relief."

Humour improves communication skills, builds relationships and enhances problem solving. It increases productivity, strengthens leadership and boosts health. It makes work less boring, more fun, and makes it something you actually want to do.

After seven years of doing stand-up comedy, I started a public speaking workshop in Hong Kong called "Stand Up and Deliver" that uses stand-up comedy as the training medium. Instead of a boring boardroom and PowerPoint slides, we do the workshop at the TakeOut Comedy Club on Elgin Street.

We spend a few hours talking about how we can be more engaging, memorable and charismatic by injecting lighthearted humour into everyday work life and in presentations. At the end of the workshop, each participant delivers a three-minute stand-up comedy routine.

It's transformational for many participants. When they see the power of getting the audience to relax, empathise and laugh, they see its potential.

Using humour in the office is not about making work funny; it's about making work fun. It's about doing things differently that causes people to smile.

Each company has its own cultural considerations that influence what will and won't work, so it's up to you to make your own best guess about how to go about lightening up your work environment.

Whatever approach you adopt, remember to always ensure competence and professionalism, even when you're having fun. Here are a few tips to get you started.

Establish a "fun centre" team This helps create fun activities and events that will be appropriate for your company. This team should rotate to keep ideas fresh and sustain ongoing commitment to fun on the job.

Create a humour corner Encourage employees to contribute anything they find or read that is funny, especially work-related items, such as comic strips. Have a few owners of the corner who will review the content for appropriateness and sensitivity. Start with a blank corner each Monday, but keep the old items. Put them in a book and give them to the employee who's had to deal with the most difficult customer or issue that month.

Have crazy fun days Consider a day in which everyone is encouraged to wear a silly tie, shoes, shirt and so on - and have fun prizes that staff can proudly display on their desks.

Reward with a fun dress-up Let's say you are working on a tight deadline for a project. Tell the team that if it comes in on time, under budget, or whatever your task goal is, you as the leader will come to work dressed up as a gorilla, a dinosaur or a cowboy. This is fun and also shows your staff you're human and can take yourself lightly.


Have a "complaint fund" Let's say you have too much negativity or complaining in your workplace. Place a jar in plain sight and any staff member caught being negative or complaining puts money in it. At the end of the month use the money for a small office party.