The Life Lab: How a sense of humour can get you ahead

We need to act serious if we want to be taken seriously at work. Right? Wrong! Most of us turn up to work wearing a professional ‘mask’, but experts say that having a sense of humour is the secret to success...

The Life Lab: How a sense of humour can get you ahead

We need to act serious if we want to be taken seriously at work. Right? Wrong! Most of us turn up to work wearing a professional ‘mask’, but experts say that having a sense of humour is the secret to success...

Think about the last time you laughed, HARD. We’re talking, chuckling until you can’t breathe – snorts and all. Now we can bet our entire shoe collection that when this happened you weren’t sat at your desk at work. In a bar with friends? Maybe. At home with the family? Sure. But at the office? No way.

We’re led to believe that if we want to be taken seriously at work, we need to act serious. Because standing around cracking jokes won’t land us that promotion will it? Well standing around and doing nothing probably won’t (er, are you trying to get fired?!), but experts say having a sense of humour can actually help to give you a leg up the career ladder.

The ha-ha advantage

That’s right, countless studies show that having a cheerful disposition means we perform better at work, we’re more satisfied in our jobs and we’re less likely to experience burnout and stress. In fact, in one survey, 91% of executives said they believed that a sense of humour is important for career advancement, while 84% said they believed that those with a good sense of humour do a better job. Another study from the Bell Leadership Institute found that the two most desirable traits in leaders were a strong work ethic and, you guessed it...a good sense of humour. So how exactly does having a sense of humour mean we perform better at work?

The aha! ha-ha

Well, it turns out you’re just one ha-ha away from an aha! moment. Yep, experts say humour is the key ingredient in creative thinking. ‘Having a laugh de-stresses and relaxes us, takes us out of the “weeds” and fres us to embrace the right mindset for playing with new ideas,’ says Kathy Caprino, a women’s career success coach. ‘It’s nearly impossible to come up with innovative ideas and think differently than we’re used to if we’re feeling bogged down, pressured and pushing too hard. When we’re in that place, we tend to get tunnel vision and focus only on the problem, rather than the myriad of new solutions available to us.’

LOL your way to likeability

A good laugh at work also builds trust. Studies suggest that people who share a healthy, positive sense of humour tend to be more likeable and are viewed as being more trustworthy. ‘A sense of humour breaks down those “I’m at work” boundaries,’ says Michael Kerr, an international business speaker and president of Humor at Work. ‘A fear of failure and exposing our weaknesses means that many of us come to work wearing a professional mask – but the minute we use humour, we show our true selves, and that builds trust. Tearing down these walls is key for building relationships in the workplace – and building these relationships are critical to success.’

Laugh more, get more done

So we aren’t condoning sitting at your desk all day watching cat videos (speaking of which, have you SEEN ‘Cats VS. Cucumbers’? No? Google it now.), but the more you can have a laugh at work, the more you’ll get done. ‘Humour creates an upbeat atmosphere that encourages interaction, brainstorming new ideas and thinking outside the box,’ says Andrew Tarvin, founder of Humor That Works, a company dedicated to bringing more humour to the workplace. ‘If you work in an environment that’s more fun, you tend to have more passion for what you do. Your work ethic increases and your enthusiasm becomes contagious.’

Watch Andrew Tarvin's TEDx talk for more tips here:

To LOL or not to LOL?

So we know a good sense of humour is key to success, but there’s a fine line between well-placed wit and acting like the office clown. So here are a few pointers...

Poke fun at yourself

The easiest (and safest) way to show humour is to poke fun at yourself. You don’t want to go overboard, but learning to laugh at yourself makes you more approachable and easier to work with.

Keep it appropriate

Before you start cracking jokes, know your audience: be wary of anything that might offend your audience. Best to skip negative humour all-together.

Be witty, not silly

Silly humour can feel like a good starting point, but it gets old quickly. You might come across as immature (not great for your work cred) and let’s face it, Borat-style humour probably isn’t going to land you a promotion. Wit, however – think well-timed and spontaneous – gives the impression of intelligence and is almost always work-appropriate.

Joke about shared experiences

Whether it’s your workload or the weather, jokes about shared experiences don’t even have to be particularly funny, because their first function is to increase a sense of connectedness. So, for example, if it’s snowing outside, say it’s a good day for a picnic. Just don’t ruin it by laughing at your own joke before they do...

Why so serious?

Get this: the average child under the age of five laughs or smiles 400 times a day. That number drops to just 15 times a day by the time we reach 35. Cheery! Time to rediscover your inner kid and work those facial muscles a little harder...

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