Humour cures a host of workplace ills

A sense of fun gives job-seekers a leg up, builds teamwork and loyalty

Glen Korstrom, Business in Vancouver; issue 807

April 12-18, 2005
Just because April Fool’s Day has passed doesn’t mean employees or managers have to wait another year to inject humour into their workplaces.

Recent studies show that a sense of humour can help a job hunter find work, and perform better once hired – as long as the humour isn’t racist, vulgar or mean.

A 2004 Hodge Cronin and Associates study reported that 98 per cent of CEOs surveyed prefer hiring people who have a sense of humour. And a Robert Half International study found 84 per cent of CEOs and human resource professionals believe people who have a sense of humour do a better job.

Those studies add to ample research showing that laughing reduces stress, helps people ingrain concepts into long term memory and bolsters staff morale, prompting fewer staff to look elsewhere for work.

Tourism BC’s director of human resources Donna Milner said a job applicant who laughs and shows signs of wit has a leg up on an otherwise equally qualified applicant.

“Part of what defines our culture is that we have people who are high energy, extroverted and quick to think on their feet. Wit goes along with that,” she said.

When Tourism BC hosts retreats to discuss corporate goals, it doesn’t forget to bring the fun. Milner hired Vancouver corporate comics Rock.Paper.Scissors Inc. to perform a two-hour session at a two-day retreat in January.

That fun session helped build teamwork and contributed to low turnover and absenteeism, Milner said. It was also part of the reason a recent Watson Wyatt survey deemed that Tourism BC is the second-best place to work in BC.

OMNEX Control Systems Inc. used humour to bridge a communication gap when it expanded to two buildings within a Port Coquitlam industrial park.

Employees initially complained of an “us and them” division, with occupants of one building or the other inevitably feeling left out of communications.

Communications co-ordinator Karin Micheelsen designed a staff newsletter that would use humour to ensure readership. The six-page newsletter is modelled after the National Enquirer, with a Enquirer-like cover and tabloid-style, improbable headlines.

The cover of The OMNEX features different staff members, whose likenesses have been Photoshopped to some other scene (for example, the cast of Survivor). The inside content is for the most part serious, talking about new machinery, cost-saving measures, new staff, employment anniversaries, etc.

Micheelsen and her partner Chris Marcellus report tremendous success, and have added extra pages, new columns and contests. They have entered the newsletter in the second annual Humour in the Workplace Awards, hosted by Rock.Paper.Scissors; winners will be announced May 24.

Long and McQuade Ltd. floor supervisor Linda Herst believes that practical jokes add to workplace fun. She had a day off before the sheet music store’s annual inventory count last year, and when she returned, each of her six staff had left notes on her desk saying that they would be unable to attend the grueling weekend stock-taking.

“I read the first few notes and they were plausible excuses,” she said. “I was thinking maybe we can get by without one or two people. Then I saw a note that someone couldn’t come in for a hangnail and someone else had to attend a pig wrestling contest, so I sort of twigged.”

All staff soon arrived ready to work and everyone had a hearty laugh along with Herst.

Radical Entertainment cares enough about keeping the workplace fun that its employee-retention manager, Amber Jordan, works at the task full time.

For about $3,500, Jordan hired Vancouver Theatresports League to liven up an otherwise dreary mid-January Friday afternoon meeting at which the video game maker announced it would be sold to Vivendi Universal Games.

The troupe divided 80 Radical staff into small groups and directed them through theatre games that required teamwork.

They called one game “and then….” Two Radical employees created lengthy oral stories by alternating narration. Each participant would tack the words “and then” onto what the last person had said before adding new twists.

“This was particularly applicable to us because we design video games,” Jordan explained. “It showed that even if something wasn’t the best idea to start with, they could build on it.”

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