One of the most interesting phenomenons at organizations is the lack of smiles, laughter and overall good humor. Why is that? What is it about our work lives that makes us stodgy and humorless?
At my very first client meeting as a consultant, the tenor was decidedly somber. Even though the topic of the meeting was good news, everyone was very serious. Although I thought it a bit strange I chalked it up to that group. After almost 20 years, I have noticed that the somber and serious nature is more the rule than the exception.
Over the years I’ve conducted a very unscientific study and concluded at work we suffer from the “Sourpuss Syndrome”. Below are the primary reasons and remedies for it.
SOURPUSS MYTH 1 – WHEN YOU ARE A LEADER YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO BE SERIOUS
Reason – We have been told that being serious equates to being an adult. Teachers were serious, parents were serious and therefore authority figures should be too. If you are not, then how can someone take you seriously as a leader?
But, being a leader (and a member of a team) actually requires having a sense of humor.
Remedy – Use humor appropriately and laugh at things that are funny. Yes, laugh. Humor is a powerful thing.
In the end, it helps people understand each other’s commonalities. In effect it brings people together. Don’t be offensive or tell jokes at other’s expense. But, please stop taking yourself and what you do so seriously. People don’t trust leaders that can’t laugh, especially at themselves.
SOURPUSS MYTH 2 – LAUGHING MEANS THERE IS NOT WORKING GOING ON
Reason – Remember when we were kids? Teachers and parents used to scold us about laughter. They would say, “If you are laughing than you can’t be working”. The problem is that we believed them. We stopped laughing and started concentrating really hard. But what if all that concentrating actually hindered out abilities to be as innovative. Stifling laughter made meetings dreadful and work boring.
Remedy – Laugh more freely, more often and with gusto!
Okay, don’t laugh at everything. Use common sense. Cruelty is never funny. But laughter actually makes more oxygen available to the brain. It can increase the level of productivity
And, if that weren’t enough, it can dramatically reduce the amount of stress at work.
So, if you laugh you will be more productive and less stressed. Do you need more reasons to laugh a little?
SOURPUSS MYTH 3 – WE AREN’T SUPPOSED TO HAVE FUN AT WORK
Reason – Work is work. Growing up many children see their parent go off to jobs that they absolutely detest. Some with good reason. But, most seem to believe that the definition of work is –
”The thing you have to do in order to pay for the things you want to do”.
Merriam Webster defines work as “Activity involving mental or physical effort done in order to achieve a purpose or result.” There isn’t anything in there about it being miserable or drudgery. That is what we add to it.
Remedy – Put your all into your work and enjoy it. Research how to be more effective. Create new ways of doing your job. If you are a leader, encourage this.
The truth is, no one likes a sourpuss. No one wants to work with someone that stifles humor. In the end, it makes you and the team you lead/work with less productive. Stop being so serious, laugh a little and have fun at work.
Anil Saxena is the President of Cube 2.14, an organizational development consulting firm that works with clients to increase both customer and employee engagement while decreasing turnover, improving customer retention, and increasing profitability within organizations.
Saxena is a certified High Impact coach and trainer and a Joint Application Design facilitator. He is also certified by both Rush Systems and IBM as a focus group facilitator. He is an inaugural member of Northwestern University’s Learning and Organizational Change program, and he earned his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the Illinois Institute of Technology.