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Use Humor at Work and Change the Game

Stop Stress at Work with Tim Gard

Everything is truly a game; life is a game, business is a game, literally everything is a game that involves winners, losers and spectators. Each day, we all can — and must — choose which of these three options we want to be.

To pull an example from a long time ago, everyone once believed the Earth was flat and that the sun revolved around the Earth. The courageous leader, Christopher Columbus, took a stand and deployed the actions to prove “everyone” wrong by sailing across the ocean.

The thought leaders of the time were given no choice but to “change their game” in order to catch up and grasp the “new” reality.

Along the same line, let’s look back into the history of the work-world and recall when everyone believed — and enforced — that if you were having fun or enjoying your work, you weren’t actually working. It took leaders like Norman Cousins and C.W. Metcalf to prove “everyone” wrong, yet again. They too changed the game for all of us, and opened up a ‘new’ reality for a truly productive and fulfilling work experience.

It’s a proven fact that positive humor at work serves to improve morale, self-esteem, and productivity in the workplace. Only a few dinosaur thinkers dispute the beneficial effects of humor at work. Just as our past leaders did, you too can “change the game” by establishing and reinforcing a good humor environment in your Organization.

Humor as a Business Skill — Really!

The best business leaders of our current time openly endorse humor at work as a necessary skill that should be developed and perfected, just as negotiation or organizational skills are developed and perfected. They understand that to earn the right to lead they must employ and polish every tool available.  It is the only way to be the best of their kind, and thrive, rather than merely survive.

The use of humor at work and as a business skill isn’t about telling jokes or acting like a comedian. Let’s face it, some things will never be funny, and some times, the situation calls for ultimate seriousness or focus. When I talk about having fun in the workplace during my seminars, I am referring to the times when everyone is competent in cooperation, and in their respective roles, as this balance of internal and external influences allows for the accomplishment of truly incredible things. Now that’s fun.

What’s Fun to Me?

Even though my job has made me a 2 Million Mile traveler, the travel experience has not lost its charm for me. Given the inherent difficulties and frequent frustrations, it is vital that l use good humor to control my perspective and shape my experiences. For example, when I lost my baggage because another traveler took my suitcase by mistake at the baggage claim carousel, I didn’t grumble … what good would that do?

Instead, I made the conscious choice to shift my perspective and find a way to “change the game” in my workplace. Before my next trip, I plastered a sign across the entire side of my bag that said: “This is not your bag!”

The result was pure perfection … no one ever takes my bag anymore.

This is not your bag!

Here’s another example: I was constantly dealing with other travelers repositioning my carry-on roller bag in the overhead bin in such a way that it would no longer fit. This routinely forced me allow the flight attendants to check my bag and created unnecessary, and sometimes problematic, logistical delays.

I changed the “carry on game” by placing a full sized rubber chicken in my bag with only the feet sticking out. Now, when someone tries to move my bag to accommodate their own, they see chicken legs sticking out and guess what happens … they just put it right back where it was, and step away.

Not only is this funny, but it produces my desired result. Since I started using this unique “bag tag,” I have never again had to check my carry-on bag after boarding the plane.

I MUST have fun when I work, and quite frankly, no one can — or will — stop me from enjoying that work.

Act, But Don’t Over React

It’s important to learn to act — rather than react — to the everyday situational stressors all around us. Humor at work allows us to do that by simply combining ideas not normally associated with one another. The best part of this approach is that you get to use lots of creativity, which is of course a lot of fun. Conversely, when you stifle humor — the very heart of creativity — you inhibit new ideas and fresh perspectives that can help in any situation … and that’s certainly NOT fun.

There’s one caveat, however. When I use humor at work, it’s not to make light of serious situations. Using humor helps me to shine a light on previously unseen solutions and reveal hidden possibilities, which is a vital skill everyone can use for themselves and share with others.

3 Ways to Use Humor at Work To Change the Game

To start changing the “Restaurant Facility Management Game” in your life, I suggest the following 3 easy steps:

First, encourage employees to be the absolute best they can be. In my experience, being the best I can be is the #1 stress reliever. Being extremely good at one’s job naturally reduces anxiety because it increases confidence.

This means you that when you, personally, make sincere attempts in obtaining the tools, and providing the support needed to assist your employees to be their very best, YOU are being your very best. Your stress will simply melt away and work will feel, and truly be, more fun for you and those around you.

Example … even though I have a “black belt” in airline travel, I still work to avoid placing myself in stressful situations by planning the best I can to avoid weather delays or other flying challenges.  All of the various tools and efforts to create a seamless travel experience don’t entirely insulate me from EVERY flying challenge, like a chatty seat mate who won’t stop talking to me even though I have my laptop open and am clearly working.

So, since there is no app to help avoid this particular annoyance, I had to create a tool to change the game.  When I want to concentrate and avoid chit-chatting on the plane, I simply pull out my own coloring book (complete with crayons) and start coloring pictures of myself.

Guess what happens …

People leave me alone — it works every single time!

Second, recognize and celebrate humor at work when it happens, with attention to enhancing and never diminishing a person’s individual value while doing so. After all, everyone smiles and laughs in the same language, no matter where they are from, what they do, or how they do it.

As a point of reference, while staying at a hotel in Florida, I woke up just before midnight one night because my room suddenly became uncomfortably hot. When I called the front desk and before I could say a word, the clerk blurted out, “Can’t talk right now we had a transformer blow up outside the hotel!”

Before I could stop myself, I asked, “Oh, no! Is it the Decepticons (referring of course to the 2011 Blockbuster movie Transformers)?!?! Which Transformers blew up? Not Bumblebee, I hope … He’s my favorite!”

The clerk paused for a moment then answered, “Um, no sir, not transformers — plural — just one.”

I could tell this young man was totally overwhelmed with anxiety and thusly “reacting” to his workplace “crisis”, rather than taking control and acting, so to help him out, I amped it up and said in an urgent tone with a sense of warning: “But you know, it only takes one … Megatron didn’t attack us, did he? Have you called Optimus Prime?”

He paused again in his puzzlement and then replied, “No, I haven’t call Optimus Prime yet, sir.”

Now highly animated, I commanded: “What are you waiting for?! We need help!”

The young man began to chuckle and closed our conversation with a smile in his voice and calmer more controlled demeanor, thanking me for my patience as they worked to resolve the problem.

Apparently, word about this conversation found its way to the Hotel Manager who, I learned during check out, covered the cost of my room. The note he left expressed his desire to thank me for helping his employees make it through the ominous “transformer” crisis with smiles and laughter.

>> Watch me tell this story on stage:

Third and Final Step: Establish your own good humor at work ritual to close out your day.  At the end of every day, it’s important to leave work and not drag the entire day’s stress home with you. Too often people carry negative energy of the day’s problems and frustrations home with them … this pattern must be stopped and replaced with something more productive. Suffice it to say, I am firm believer in the importance of leaving home at home when you go to work, and leaving work at work when you go home.

Example: Imagine that all your day’s problems are sitting on an office chair, piled high. Then picture in your mind dragging that chair home with you like it’s a toy wagon. Ask yourself how often you do this, and if you can’t answer it for yourself, ask the person closest to you in your personal life. If you discover that you regularly relive the work stress of the day in your home life, you can change the game by making leaving work a defining moment in time and take control of your perspective.

To do this, consider yourself a gymnast … when your work day is done and you are ready to leave the job site, throw your arms up in the air and do your best impression of a gymnastic “dismount.” Then as you begin to walk out of the facility, point back at your ‘chair of problems’ and clearly state: “And YOU STAY!”

This exercise will encourage your ability to mentally leave your work where it belongs … at work. This simple method helps not only you and those you encounter professionally every day, but your friends and family will appreciate the opportunity to spend time with you when you are home, rather than hear about your work.

Applying these ideas will change the game for you and your employees forever. You’ll accomplish creating a positive work experience for yourself and others, plus you’ll be able to effortlessly refresh and renew yourself between the stressful situations that inevitably occur.


-Tim Gard, CSP, CPAE

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