Being momentarily short of conspiracy theories, cruel intolerance and whack-jobs, I turned my dial to Twitter. Floating atop the effluent flowing through the sewers, I noticed some advice to managers commending they inject humour into their workplaces.
This brought back long-repressed memories of a manager who commanded us all via email to engage in “wet and dry” fun on an annual retreat. I have always rationalised that request as an assay at humour rather than merely asinine. However, this tweet, had they existed back in the day, may well have been the type of advice my manager was clumsily attempting to implement.
Different “humor” (which gives aways its origins) tactics were adumbrated in this tweet. “Start with yourself” was the first injunction. Now this seems perfectly sensible advice, if by that they mean one should attempt to amuse oneself at work and refuse to take the whole thing seriously. However, the tone of solemn self-importance conveyed raised suspicions that they were suggesting we offer ourselves up as the butt of the joke. That should do wonders for confidence in the leadership team.
Next was “play a game”. Now I suspect one of the great benefits of the WFH revolution is being free of office game-playing. We know that games generally should be banned. Each weekend parents fill accident and emergency departments after to coming to blows at their children’s sport. In the home, board games are the leading cause of stabbing. Well I might have made up both of those claims, but why take the risk at work, especially when power-relationships means participating is rarely properly voluntary?
Start a meeting on a lighter note comes next. This is a bit like advising a judge to commence sentencing for murder with a stand-up routine. Except the sentence for murder is generally shorter than most meetings.
Once we see that our “light notes” have turned into bum notes, the advice is to tell a funny story about ourselves. I am reminded of a TV journalist years ago recounting the staff Christmas party, where one celebrity presenter famous NOT for comedy decided to “entertain” the room containing more than a smattering of professional comedians with his stories. As my journo friend pointed out, know your limitations.
If you lack the anecdotal skills of Billy Connolly, you can always share funny videos, photos and quotes, they suggest. Well you can if you are looking to transform your work environment into a minefield. The actor Peter Ustinov exclaimed at a Hollywood party on seeing a famously thin-skinned colleague “oh look there is Charles Laughton waiting to be offended”. The rule of thirds applies here. Such material is in equal parts found: funny; not funny; or highly offensive. You have a one in three shot. Desist.
Finally they suggest to use “humour” to defuse conflict. Presumably this is the conflict that you have provoked by following all the strategies above. So when you are being tenderly hugged by the neck half way up your office wall, with your assailant holding a print-out of your funny image ripped from the kitchen noticeboard, it is probably not the time to say “well from certain angles you do look like that hippopotamus”.
If you are so naturally bereft of a funny bone that you need to follow a step-by-step Twitter guide to force-feed funnies to your staff, it is probably time to get a job that does not involve managing people, or perhaps it’s time to think up more natural and authentic ways to relate to your staff.
Jim Bright, FAPS is Professor of Career Education and Development at ACU and owns Bright and Associates, a Career Management Consultancy. Email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @DrJimBright