Using humor at work to seriously boost brainpower, productivity and morale

How would you like to improve team productivity, reduce stress, help prevent burnout and provide more motivation for your employees or colleagues? For free. Author, consultant and “humor engineer” Andrew Tarvin says it’s not a joke, but it does involve humor that works.

“When I was working as a project manager at Procter & Gamble, I realized people were paying more attention to my presentations, they were really reading my emails and some other positive things were happening when I started utilizing and incorporating humor,” said Tarvin in a recent phone interview while promoting his book Humor That Works. “I started doing some research around it and realized it is a real thing, and that there is a statistical correlation between our moods, happiness, productivity and humor.”

Tarvin graduated from Ohio State University with a degree in computer science. He says he has always been obsessed with finding the most efficient way to do things and understanding how things work. While in college he also began dabbling in stand-up comedy, including improvisation. He soon recognized he could combine those things.

“Just because something is efficient doesn’t mean it’s effective,” Tarvin said. “It’s all too easy to be obsessed with efficiency, but if it doesn’t always help us achieve our longer-term goals. That’s where humor comes in.”

One cautionary note, Tarvin says it’s not about becoming the conference room clown, or doing a monologue in the break room. Rather it’s taking something you find funny, and then turning it into something you can apply to achieve a goal.

“No one is expecting your weekly status report to be hilarious. But when you add a humorous wrinkle at the end of it, or you replace your meeting summary with a haiku, or simply walk through the office with a smile, it can have a great impact.”

Also, Tarvin continues, you don’t always have to be the creator of humor, you can simply be the conduit of humor. So, he says, if someone else makes a really funny meme that illustrates the point you’re trying to make, then use that.

“We always remind people everyone has their own innate strengths they can take advantage of. If you’re a good storyteller, then tell more stories in your presentations, and maybe include a little humor. If you’re good at impersonations, or making really weird facial expressions, then use that. It’s all about connecting to your audience – and the higher purpose of your work.”

In his research Tarvin found many of our workplace attitudes, including the way we use humor perhaps, are holdovers from a different era, specifically from the industrial age.

“When people were operating a machine, or standing on an assembly line, or working in front of a steel furnace, your mood didn’t particularly matter, your emotions didn’t matter and your personality didn’t come into play. It was strictly all about efficiency. But in a knowledge economy our emotions and our moods very much impact our ability to be productive and get work done. Emotions make a difference and humor is a mood-booster.”

Tarvin says part of his challenge is simply educating people on the value of humor and part of it is helping to teach people how to better use it.

“In general people know how to laugh and have a good time when they’re out with friends, or at home with family, but they may not know how to appropriately use that in the workplace.”

As a starting point, Tarvin encourages everyone to have a workday goal of a smile an hour.

“If you are about to go into an hour-long meeting think about how you might make someone smile during that time. Read emails with a funny accent in your head. Listen to a comedy podcast over lunch. Every single day you choose how you’re going to do your work. So choose to be more productive, less stressed and happier. Choose to get better results and have more fun. Choose humor that works.”

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