A little levity

Employees love a boss who has a good
sense of humor and, according to a
new survey, most bosses already have a funny bone. Ninety-seven percent of professionals polled felt it is important for
managers to be able to laugh at themselves
or at difficult situations; and 87 percent of
workers surveyed said that their supervisors were, in fact, witty.

The survey was developed by Robert Half
International — the world’s first and
largest staffing service specializing in
accounting, finance and information technology — and included responses from 492
full- or part-time workers 18 years of age or
older and employed in office environments.

“The bosses most people enjoy working
with know how to laugh and look at the
lighter side of things,” says Lisa Morgan,
branch manager with Robert Half
International’s Akron, Ohio, office. “It’s not
only the wittiness that people enjoy, but it
is the fact that a sense of humor makes you
more approachable and personable.”

Smart Business spoke with Morgan
about how work and humor can mix and
how levity can be used to build rapport
with staff and ease stressful situations.

Why is it important for a manager to have a
good sense of humor at work?

If you think of the times when you had to
be around a dour-type personality, you
already know how difficult it can be to
work with someone who never cracks a
smile. Approaching someone who is
always serious can be difficult. Subordinates are less likely to approach this
type of manager to express ideas or ask
questions. It is much harder to build rapport with staff if a manager never laughs.
Frankly, these people are missing out on a
lot of great exchanges with their employees because they are not as approachable
as the more lighthearted bosses.

What does a ‘good sense of humor’ in the
workplace mean?

When you are defining a ‘sense of humor’
in a boss, it is not someone who is always
clowning around, has a roster of good
jokes or is always quick and witty. Not
everyone has those talents, or is a natural-born comedian. But, a manager with a
good sense of humor can appreciate
humor in situations or laugh at others’
jokes or humor. Often, a boss can show a
good sense of humor without even saying a
word, but by simply laughing at a good
joke. Bosses with a good sense of humor
also laugh at themselves or poke fun at
their own foibles.

Can humor be taken too far?

Yes, it can. Managers need to be very
careful not to make one person the target
of all the jokes. It is okay to make fun of situations or yourself, but not any one person
in particular.

There is also a time and place for humor.
While injecting a humorous comment in a
tense situation is often a welcome relief,
there are times when humor is inappropriate. For example: During a serious performance discussion, or in a crisis situation
when quick action is needed. The bottom
line is that if humor hurts someone, you
have crossed the line.

Also, the primary function of the work-place is to get work done. So if someone is
cracking jokes all day, he or she is probably
not very productive.

Would you consider sarcasm a form a humor
that’s appropriate for the workplace?

I think sarcasm is a dangerous form of
humor. The problem with sarcasm is that
there could be a problem differentiating
what a person’s sarcastic comment means,
and that uncertainty can put people off.
When a person uses a lot of sarcasm, others often don’t know when that person is
kidding or serious. So, I would stay away
from sarcasm.

Do you have any advice for the overly serious

Our survey indicated that 87 percent of
employees said that their superiors had a
good sense of humor. For the 13 percent of
those bosses with little to no funny bone, I
would suggest that they lighten up a little.
This doesn’t mean they have to start cracking jokes, but maybe start small by simply
smiling at a joke made by a co-worker. You
can find humor in almost any situation, and
a mutual joke helps a manager build rapport with someone quicker — and helps to
gain respect.

LISA MORGAN is the branch manager of Robert Half
International in Akron, Ohio. Robert Half International has more
than 350 staffing locations in North America, Europe and the
Asia-Pacific region, and offers online job search services at
www.rhi.com. Reach Morgan at [email protected] or (330)