Humor in Organizations

Various large organizations around the world have made humor an important value. Mostly, the initiatives are at a strategic level. The recruitment policy for flight attendants of SouthWest Arilines, for example, focuses on hiring people with a sense of humor, because their job is to keep customers satisfied and happy (Van Riel, 2012). They encourage people to make fun of themselves which demonstrates a healthy outlook, showing that they don’t take themselves so seriously. As a result they will be regarded as more approachable and down to earth and are now best known for their above and beyond costumer service which makes the flights fun and enjoyable. Although kept in mind that this use of humor should not be done excessively as it will lose its effectiveness with overuse.

An example of their fun flights:

Why Don't Big Planes Have Baby Planes?

A mother and her son were flying Southwest Airlines from Kansas City to Chicago. The son (who had been looking out the window) turned to his mother and asked, "If big dogs have baby dogs and big cats have baby cats, why don't big planes have baby planes?" The mother (who couldn't think of an answer) told her son to ask the stewardess So the boy asked the stewardess, "If big dogs have baby dogs and big cats have baby cats, why don't big planes have baby planes?" The stewardess responded, "Did your mother tell you to ask me?" The boy admitted that this was the case. "Well, then, tell your mother that there are no baby planes because Southwest always pulls out on time. Your mother can explain that to you.

Moreover, at Ben & Jerry’s they recognize humor as a corporate value by having humor in their daily routines at the work floor. For example they’ve included a “Joy Gang” which is a volunteer group of people who are searching for ways to bring more joy and fun into their daily work routines, without (!) management interference. So bimonthly massage- and pizza parties, Elvis Presley Day, National Clash-Dressing Day, Barry Manilow Appreciation Day, Halloween parties and Valentines Day parties followed and there is no holiday where the Joy Gang isn’t involved in (Ben & Jerry’s 1988). There just is a lot of fun at work! It’s the investment in people, which is the most important resource, what made these people invest more of their energy into the company in return. And so you get a highly successful company and a successful human culture that was even recognized when they won the Award in the Quality of Life category for creating a supporting environment for their employees (IBP Chief Humor Officer Report, 2012).

Pixar also uses the sense of humor in the creative people they hire for filmmaking. They state that the positive effects of humor should go bottom-up in their organization. A fun fact about Pixar is that the staff is even allowed to design their own work spaces. They can decorate it like anything they want, from a backyard work shed to something that looks like a western town. There is even a secret room which one of the animators, named Andrew Gordon, discovered through an air conditioning vent in his own office space. He turned it into a private space and named it the “Love Lounge”. Of course the room would not stay secret to other people for a long time and soon Andrew Stanton discovered the room. Gordon thought he now was going to be fired for keeping the room hidden, but Stanton actually thought the room was so cool that he invited their boss to have a look. And after this several huge celebrities got to get to see the secret room as well. Eventually, Gordon moved from office and there he created the “Lucky 7 lounge” secret chamber, which had a sliding bookcase door that could be opened through a hidden button (awesome!).

Check the video “Pixar Studio Stories - Where’s Gordon??” for the whole story:

The actual reason for Pixar to let their employees create their own office space is because the Pixar’s Chief Creative Officer John Lasseter believes that if you have a loose, free kind of atmosphere, it helps creativity. And that’s exactly what we, from CHO, but also multiple clients working at PWC, Ziggo, and Gemeente Breda, believe as well and which we have also investigated! A role of a Chief Humor Officer helps setting a more creative and fun direction for their organizations (Jaspar Roos, 2013).

Furthermore, Blumenfeld & Alpern (1994) wrote a practical book with multiple exercises that can be done together at the work floor. McGhee (2000) also described in the “Laughter Remedy” practical exercises that enable humor. PENN Behavioral Health, for example, uses these exercises in their “Management Assistance Program” to develop positive relationships. Others, such as Dr. Joel Goodman and Margei Ingram from “The Humor Project”, but also Kathy Klotz-Guest from “Powerfully Funny” provides workshops, conferences, and consults for organizations to turn people into a humor perspective and hand out tools for them to use in their daily routine.

Multiple organizations have been very original to include humor practices. But you can do this too! For example, you can start a shared inventory of everyone’s favorite funny books, TV shows and movies. Encourage employees to borrow them for lunchtime reading/watching. This has been done at Kodak where a humor room was created where employees can go to relax or have creative brainstorming sessions. But you can also have a contest to design a fun logo for each department; and if appropriate, put it up. This is not only fun to do, but it also fosters in-group communication and collaboration (Kodak). 

Another cool example is to form a company rock band (Wait what?!). Yes, a company rock band which encourages people from different layers of the organization (depending on their skills of course) to be creative together and to work towards a common goal. After the auditions, the band could enter some sort of competition to foster company spirit. This is a practice implemented at KPMG in the Netherlands, they placed second in the yearly ‘’battle of the business bands’’ event 2012.

Another used humor practice by Edmar Inc. is the Humor Bulletin Board. Of course to make good use of this Bulletin Board you have to encourage your employees to contribute some humor on it. What also works is to assign someone to make sure the content is appropriate. Great examples to put on this Humor Bulletin Board are cartoons and jokes which poke fun at negative circumstances within the office. But also let employees take photos of their colleagues in unusual physical positions while working behind the computer or in a team or when they’re just interacting with each other. Put these photo’s on the humor bulletin board and put funny captions below the photo where you can even give a prize for the funniest caption. Furthermore you can start with a blank bulletin board each Monday morning, while saving the old ones in order to make a book out of it. You can give the book as a prize for the employee who’s had to deal with the most difficult customer of the month, or was most effective in using humor to deal with a difficult problem on the job etc.