They Who Laugh, Last!
March, 2000
Paul E. McGhee, PhD

More Ideas for Building Fun into Your Work Setting 

Work vs. Prison

In prison, you spend most of your time wanting to get out, looking through bars from the inside.

At work, you spend most of your time wanting to get out and go inside bars.

In prison, you get three free meals a day.

At work, you only get a break for one meal, and you pay for it.

1) Create a Humor Bulletin Board.

Encourage employees to contribute. Assign someone to monitor it for appropriateness of content. Make it a point to look for cartoons and jokes which poke fun at the circumstances that cause negativity or conflict in the office. Start with a blank board each Monday morning, but keep the old ones. Put them together in a book and give them to the employee who’s had to deal with the most difficult customer that month, or was most effective in using humor to deal with a difficult problem on the job.

Another option is to place cartoons next to the serious messages you want people to read. They’ll stop for the cartoons, but the other messages will get read, as well. In health care settings, make photocopies of the cartoons and create cartoon booklets for patients.

2) Create a Humor Break Room.

This room should contain cartoon and joke books, fun props, VCRs and audio tape recorders (with several sets of ear phones) so that employees can take brief humor breaks. Put a suggestion box in the room so that the kinds of humor employees like can be made available. As a variation on this idea, have a tape recorder containing 1- to 2-minute samples of standup comedy routines set up in the coffee room (change the tape every day). This will allow employees to have a laugh while getting their coffee--without taking any extra time.

Marguerite Chandler, president of Edmar, Inc., in Bound Brook New Jersey, stocked the employee lounge with comedy tapes, put up a humor bulletin board, and subscribed to a software service that provides a joke a day to employees.1

3) Create a Tension Release area.

Managing Office Technology magazine keeps a stuffed (toy) pig called "Babe" (named after the pig in the movie Babe) in the common area of the office. When deadlines or other problems get staff members too stressed out, they engage in a silly bout of kicking Babe--in full view of whomever happens to be passing by. It’s a great stress-reliever, and creates the lighthearted spirit the company wants in the office.2 The central office of one accounting firm has dart boards, hula hoops, decks of cards, and even a miniature golf course.

4) Have fun dress-up days.

Consider a day in which everyone is encouraged to wear a silly tie, shoes, shirt, etc. Many companies do this on Halloween or April Fools’ Day. The chief technology officer of one company dressed up as a leprechaun on St. Patrick’s Day, planted himself at the cafeteria cash register, and offered a free lunch to anyone who could stump him with a technical question. Steve Siegel, CEO at Lipschultz, Levin and Gray, an accounting firm, sometimes wears a gorilla mask at his desk. Employees often greet customers in chicken costumes.3

If you organize an ugly tie day, wear the ugliest tie you have, and would love to get rid of. Anyone at work that day can demand your tie in exchange for their own, and you have to then wear that tie the rest of the day until someone else demands a trade. (You can also demand a trade yourself.) Women can do the same thing with shoes or scarves. (They can also seize the opportunity to dispose of ties they’ve long wanted their husbands to get rid of.)

5) Have cartoon caption contests.

This can be done using the bulletin board approach. Or send copies of a cartoon around before a meeting. Everyone who wants to do so submits a caption in advance. At the meeting, people vote on the funniest caption. Winner gets a fun prize.

Take photos of employees in unusual physical positions while interacting with each other. Put them on a bulletin board and invite funny captions below the photo. Give a prize to the caption judged funniest.

6) Use humor to promote upcoming events.

Barbara Glanz provides a wonderful example in her book Care Packages for the Workplace of how a sense of fun and humor was used in one company to promote upcoming events. The manager of staff development "bought a mannequin that she lovingly named ‘Sadie.’ The first time Sadie appeared on the scene was after some downsizing had occurred in the organization. Dressed as a stressed-out woman, she made her debut in the lobby to advertise a workshop called ‘Diminishing Stress Through Laughter.’ She was missing a button, her slip was showing, her lunch bag was leaking, her shoes were untied, her nail polish was chipped, and it was definitely a bad hair day! . . . the employees immediately identified with her and began to make even more changes. They unzipped her skirt, turned her belt around, and simply used her as a catharsis for their stress. Sadie became a company legend!"4 She was such a hit that she continued to be used as a fun way to advertise subsequent events.

7) Be aware of cultural differences.

With the growing levels of cultural diversity occurring in most work settings, it is essential for managers to raise the issue of cultural differences in fun and humor. What seems appropriate for one group may not be well-received by another.

1. Schlegel, S. Humor at work. Trenton Times, March 20, 1994.

2. McKenna, J.F. April foolin'. Managing Office Technology, April, 1997, p. 10.

3. Filipczak, B. Are we having fun yet? Training, April, 1995, 48-56.

4. Glanz, B. Care Packages for the Workplace. New York: McGraw-Hill, pp. 26-27.

[Adapted from Health, Healing and the Amuse System: Humor as Survival Training, 3rd ed. Available April, 1999.]


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