Using humor to deal with workplace stress

Sep 16 2003 by Dan Bobinski Print This Article

According to Motivational Humorist Jeff Justice, the ability to take your job seriously and yourself lightly goes a long way in the battle against stress.

Justice says, “A sense of humor can be used in stress reduction, problem solving, team building, and improving communications without ever telling a joke.”

Scott Friedman, a popular speaker and author who holds degrees in marketing and psychology, says “Humor creates an instant bond.” He also says it removes negative, non-productive feelings and creates a fresh new approach to situations.

The idea is to laugh about a situation while it’s happening – it keeps oxygen going to the brain and keeps a person thinking more clearly. But one has to be careful, because sometimes laughter has to occur internally. For example, you don’t want to break out with laughter when the boss announces that sales are down 25%. Nor do you want to be making light of every little thing that happens at work.

For example, one small business owner I know of had an employee who treated every situation with humor. At times the employee’s humor was inappropriately displayed, and people were offended. At other times the excessive use of humor distracted employees from being productive, because all they could do was anticipate how “Mr. Good Humor” was going to make a pun or a wisecrack around the topic being discussed. It was clearly a case of too much of a good thing.

Humor can be like salt: A little can be good. Too much and it loses it’s punch. As the English poet Samuel Butler once said, “it is tact that is golden, not silence.” And I believe it was Shakespeare who said, “Brevity is the soul of wit.” All good quotes when it comes to humor.

Dr. Joni Johnston of Workplace Relationships offers a few tips for using humor at work:

1. Pay attention to clues about your co-worker’s mood

2. Trust your intuition

3. Take yourself lightly

4. Use humor as the icing, not the cake

5. Avoid playful insults

Johnston says that humor has to be used at the right time, in appropriate amounts, and shouldn’t make fun of an individual. In other words, make fun of the situation – not a person.

One good example of using humor is offered by Jeff Justice: A creative female employee got tired of her boss rejecting her budget – he kept telling her it needed to be smaller. When she finally got her budget down to bare bones, he still rejected it. Knowing she couldn’t make it any smaller and still do the work required of her, she took her papers over to the copy machine and literally reduced her budget to the size of a postage stamp, then she took it back in to the boss. After they both had a good laugh, her boss gave in and okayed the budget.

Justice’s approach for using humor to combat stress is imagining the stressful situation at it’s absolute worse. When you take the situation on a mental journey to the point where it becomes absurd, it then can become funny (it also makes the present situation not seem quite as bad!).

For the skeptical, much medical research has shown that humor reduces stress, and helps give people a sense of control – vital when heavy stress is weighing people down.

It’s kind of like what Bill Cosby says: “If you can laugh at it, you can survive it.” And also remember what Jeff Justice tells us: “He who laughs - lasts!”

PS. I’d love to hear how you’ve used humor to reduce workplace stress! Email me at [email protected]

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About The Author

Dan Bobinski
Dan Bobinski

Daniel Bobinski teaches teams and individuals how to use emotional intelligence and how to create high impact training. He’s also a best-selling author, a popular speaker, and he loves helping teams and individuals achieve workplace excellence