A Serious Guide to Humor at Work

Sean Swaby

Humor is like Social Prozac.

They didn’t get the joke, the only thing I heard was a gasp followed by silence.

It was January, 2007 and our business unit had gathered for a team meeting of Addiction staff (for a little more about my experience as an Addiction Therapist, see my article on The Accidental Leader). The Manager started the meeting with some introductions and asked the group to share one of their New Year’s resolutions.

I like to use these moments to make people laugh. But this one was a Bouncing Betty.

When it came to my turn, I shared my brilliance: “My goal this year is to start smoking so that next year, I have something to quit.” Silence. And then Margaret gasped. (Yes, her name really was Margaret. Recently, she entered in the witness protection plan, so I can use her name all that I want).

Humor is misunderstood

Every time I tell that story, people laugh. It is a funny line and yes some groups are WAY too serious, but I misread the group.

Some people take the response as evidence that work is no joke, and it is no place for humor. “Humor is for Saturday nights and coffee shops.” Other people ignore the gasps and use humor inappropriately. It is sad that humor can undermine a reputation.
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