How to Lead With Laughter

Incorporating humor into the workplace leads to real benefits for employees and organizations, including reduced absenteeism, enhanced problem-solving skills, increased production and persistence, and a boost in creativity.

That’s great, but what if you’re just not that funny? Whether you’re the corporate comedian or you’re more of a serious manager, here’s a model to help you add levity to your workplace.

The L.A.F.T.E.R. Model

(I’ve never understood why there’s an “ugh” in the middle of the word “laughter” anyway.)

Related: 4 Ways to Laugh More

Lead by example.
Ask for help.
Fun over funny.
Tell your story.
Earn it.
Rituals.

Lead by example.

Try not to take yourself too seriously. That means doing things like participating in those ridiculous team builders or even making fun of yourself on occasion. Bad hair day? Stain on your shirt? Rather than trying to cover it up all day, show it off! I once spilled a thermos of coffee on my lap, and rather than heading straight for the restroom, I stopped by the lobby, where several employees were, and showed off my stupidity. Immediately, the quiet new employee who I hadn’t yet gotten to know shook his head and said, “I told you to see a doctor about that!” which got everyone laughing. From then on, he seemed more at ease around me as a supervisor, and our relationship felt more genuine.

Ask for help.

If humor isn’t your thing, there’s always someone who would love to take on the task! In fact, once you anoint them as your “Head of Humor,” “Queen of Comedy” or whatever you want to call it, they probably won’t leave you alone about all of the ideas they have! (Can you already picture who this person is in your office?)

You can even combine the first two tips. Leading by example could be your way of asking for help. One executive I know who isn’t great at being funny on the spot had a brilliant idea. He asked colleagues he was close with to tease him more often in front of employees rather than just when they were alone so people could see that he was easygoing and could laugh at himself.

Fun over funny.

For most of us, trying too hard to be funny leads to more groans and eye rolls than laughs (think Michael Scott in The Office). If you want to get people laughing, instead of trying to be funny, just get them to have fun. According Robert Provine, a professor of neurobiology and psychology, we are 30 times more likely to laugh in groups than by ourselves. The key is to engage people in activities where they can play and interact with one another, like making a meal together, doing a service project, attending trivia nights, talent shows, or participating in March Madness or Oscars brackets for prizes, etc.

Related: The Key to Accomplishing More: Having Fun

Tell your story.

Bringing humor to work doesn’t have to be a covert operation. You’ll gain more traction if you simply tell people your goal. Let them know you’re hoping to make it a more fun place to work and you’ll probably get ideas from them. This also shows people that you’re trying and you care about them.

Tell your story to potential employees and customers as well. Is fun or humor reflected in your company’s values? What about in advertising, Facebook pages and tweets? How about job descriptions? Along with technical skills, add that you’re looking for someone with a “sense of humor” or who values a “fun and creative work environment.”

Earn it.

You’ve now read most of an article (congratulations by the way), about the importance of humor at work. Unfortunately, that doesn’t give you license to spend your day practicing one-liners or watching YouTube videos of cats falling into fish tanks. Before you can be goofy, you have to be good.

A 2012 Bell Leadership Institute study found that when employees are asked to describe characteristics of leaders in their organizations, “work ethic” and “sense of humor” are both mentioned twice as much as any other trait. People must see you as reliable first, then your tomfoolery will be accepted as a welcome reprieve rather than an annoying distraction.

Rituals.

You can’t change corporate culture with just a funny bulletin board or a pingpong table. A company’s culture is defined by its rituals, which occur annually, monthly, weekly and daily. An annual holiday party is great, but if that’s the only fun event all year, it’s not impacting the culture.

Here are a few examples of rituals to get you started:

  • Annual: holiday parties, service projects, run/walks, kickball games, awards banquets
  • Monthly/Seasonal: employee of the month, making customers smile award, NCAA bracket challenge, Oscars bracket challenge, costume contests, potluck, trivia
  • Weekly: Monday Pun-day (add new pun to your office door/bulletin board), “Toes-day” (encourage people to wear sandals in the summer), Team Tuesdays (do a team builder on Tuesday mornings), Wacky Sock Wednesday, The Friday Funny (send out a funny video or article every Friday)
  • Daily: make boring office signage funny, have a joke-of-the-day calendar, implement a 3:00 p.m. dance party

You don’t have to be the funniest person in your organization to be the one adding more humor. Using humor to create a culture of fun is doable, just get rid of the “ugh” and add some L.A.F.T.E.R.!

Related: Use Your ‘Humor Being’ to Be a Better Human Being

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Paul Osincup

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