When people hear about what I do as self-proclaimed humor engineer–teach organizations how to use humor to get better results–they’re often confused. Their first question is usually, “Humor engineer? Isn’t that an oxymoron?” But engineers can be funny, just look at Mike Judge (former engineer and writer of the movie Office Space) and Rowan Atkinson (aka Mr. Bean).
The second question is “Is humor really that important?” And the answer is yes, humor is desperately needed in today’s world: 83% of employees are stressed out a work, 55% are unsatisfied with their jobs, and 47% struggle to stay happy. And that’s why humor is needed.
But most people consider humor a “nice-to-have.” As in, “sure, it’d be nice to have fun at work, just as it would be nice to get a raise, leave at 5pm every day, and not have to change your password every 90 days (making sure the password has alphabetic, numeric, and iambic characters in it and isn’t a password you’ve used in the last 3 lifetimes). But oh well.”
Here’s why humor is a must-have in today’s work environment:
Humor increases engagement.
A recent study found that 70% of the workforce is disengaged at work, costing US companies an estimated $500 billion in lost productivity every year. That means the current way of working isn’t actually working. And considering the average person will work 90,000 hours–longer than everything that is on Netflix–you realize the current way of living, isn’t really living.
But humor can help. Consider this simple question: would you rather do something that is fun or not fun? Chances are, you’d be up for having some fun, even in the workplace. And when you can find ways to enjoy what you do, you are more likely to want to do it, and are willing to do it longer.
It’s no surprise then that millenials are the first generation to list fun as a core value they’re looking for at work. No, it has nothing to do with feeling entitled, but everything to do with being willing to seek out a more sustainable way of working (to go along with meaningful work, flexible work schedules, and actually believing in the mission of the company they trade their time for money).
Humor improves communication.
The average person sends and receives 122 emails and is bombarded by up to 5,000 advertisements every day. That’s a lot of clutter, distraction, and annoying messages from Facebook friends asking if we want to get involved in what is clearly a pyramid scheme.
If we want people to listen to what we have to say, we have to get them to look up from their phones and pay attention, something humor can do very well. Using humor makes people want to read and hear what you have to say because they know you’re not going to bore them. As Jerry Seinfeld said, “There’s no such thing as an attention span, only boring content.”
Not only that, but humor also gets people to remember your message longer. In my talks, I often share the example of SohCahToa—a mnemonic many people learned in geometry class that reminds you how to calculate the trigonomic functions: sine equals opposite over hypotenuse, cosine equals adjacent over hypotenuse, and tangent equals opposite over adjacent. I remember this not because I’m a math nerd (I am) but because it’s an interesting word (just say it a few times).
Humor boosts productivity.
I’m a big productivity geek. I’ve read Getting Things Done many times over, constantly think about Pareto’s Principle, and have set up my own productivity system for how to efficiently load and unload a dishwasher (most important step: putting all of the like silverware together to save 20 seconds on the unload).
One thing I’ve found is that it is very difficult to be productive, if you are dead… or if you feel like death: you’re sick, tired, burned out, stressed out, worn out.
Humor can help boost productivity, both at an individual and a corporate level. As an individual, humor helps us take a break from our work so that we can come back to it, re-energized and focused (what some call “strategic renewal”). At the organizational level, humor improves employee productivity by reducing employee absenteeism, increasing company loyalty, and preventing short- and long-term burnout.
One of my favorite productivity hacks is called the Pomodoro Technique (named after the pomodoro kitchen timer). It helps you stay focused on tasks and has built-in breaks for strategic renewal aka a humor reboot.
Humor is a must-have.
Humor is a necessity. It increases engagement, improves communication, and boosts productivity, all things we can use in today’s overworked, underappreciated, stress-filled, sleep-deprived world. You’re going to work 90,000 hours in your lifetime, you might as well enjoy them.