How To Use Humor During a Recession

photo by mmagallan

photo by mmagallan

During these tough economic times, it might not seem like the appropriate time to use humor or have fun in the workplace. People are losing jobs, salaries are being cut, and the overall economy seems to keep sinking. But this is exactly the time that humor is needed.

Dire times require increased teamwork, creativity and productivity. To counteract the negative effects of stress such as headaches, lack of concentration or depression, an increase in laughter is needed.

But how do you have fun at work while at the same time respecting and acknowledging the conditions around you?

1. Understand the Benefits

The first thing to understand and communicate when using humor during a recession is why you are doing so. Without understanding the benefits of humor, the unenlightened might not appreciate or support your efforts.  However, humor and laughter in the workplace has been shown to increase productivity, enhance creativity, reduce stress, and is good for your health.

By communicating these benefits, you can explain that humor at work isn’t (just) about having fun, but about improving the bottom-line–something that is always important to keep in mind during tough economic times.

2. Be Respectful

The other key rule when using humor during a recession is to always keep in mind the circumstances of all employees. Having an extravagant party after lay-offs doesn’t exactly send the right message.

You can still do activities like start your next meeting with some improv exercises, but be sensitive to the subject matter and timing of the meeting.  A “word-at-a-time” story is a great way to kick-start creativity before a product brainstorming session.  It isn’t as great of an idea before announcing salary reductions.  The key to humor is timing, and that is particularly important in these more somber times.

3. Consider the Cost

While more prosperous times might have lead to week-long retreats or exotic meeting locations, the current economic crunch doesn’t make it feasible or justifiable. People will rightfully be upset if your humor efforts cost as much or more as it would have for you to keep more people on staff.

The uproar over the AIG bonuses was not because the public thought recognition was out of the question, it was that the size of the bonuses didn’t match actual performance–if a company needs a $170 billion bailout, it’s hard to justify that your employees performed so well they needed $165 million in bonuses.

But the use of humor doesn’t require huge budgets; it’s quite possible to do with little to no money.  How much does sending anonymous appreciation letters cost?  The dollars spent for a number of activities might be low, but as MasterCard would say, the morale boost and affect on employee performance are priceless.

4. Focus Your Efforts

The applications of humor in the workplace is infinite, but some applications are better than others during a recession.  Fun for the sake of fun is certainly a great way to improve workplace satisfaction during periods of high profits, but it can rub people the wrong way when the unemployment rate continues to rise.  However humor with high ROI, such as improv exercises that stimulate new ideas, or lunch celebrations that recognize truly outstanding achievers, are imperative to keep productivity and morale high.

The following activities are some examples of humor activities that can benefit almost any organization during these tough economic times:

  1. Send anonymous notes of appreciation.
  2. Use improv exercises or games to stimulate creativity.
  3. Have a pot-luck lunch to build relationships.
  4. Encourage periods of strategic distractions to prevent burn-out.
  5. Create a board for humorous cartoons or inspirational quotes and images.
  6. Smile.

In addition to specific events, simply encouraging others to seek humor in the workplace on an individual or small-scale is a great way to support levity at work without spending money or involving a number of resources.

Why Don’t You Laugh

The number of activities that can help during a recession is truly endless.  If you explain the value of humor and share compassion when selecting a humor event, you can still take advantage of all of the benefits of humor in a time when we need it most.

“Gentlemen, why don’t you laugh? With the fearful strain that is upon me day and night, if I did not laugh I should die, and you need this medicine as much as I do.”Abraham Lincoln

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{ 2 comments… add one }
  • Drew May 30, 2009, 5:44 pm

    Karl–I think you make a great point. I remember a manager once telling me that she doesn’t understand why most people are different at work from when they are at home.

    We should be able to be our natural fun loving selves like you mention. But I guess until we really get to that culture, it’s always helpful to back up why having fun is important to the bottom-line.

  • Karl Staib - Work Happy Now May 28, 2009, 7:47 am

    Humor is one of the most important aspects of a happy work place. Without it there isn’t enough joy. If there is no joy then work is a cold and unfeeling place.

    I think the biggest change in the last few years is people at work are more likely to express their feelings.

    We shouldn’t need permission to have fun. We should be able to express our true selves and laugh up a storm with our co-workers. The more that we advance as a working culture the more that this will happen.

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