• June 2011

HR Expert Barbara Mitchell Teaches Us How to Lighten Up the Workplace

By Barbara Mitchell
HR Expert and Co-Author
The Essential HR Handbook

I suppose some people think fun at work is an oxymoron, but I firmly believe keeping it light in the workplace can encourage productivity and reduce turnover — two factors that have a financial impact on your organization.

Life is difficult enough with traffic jams, family issues, weather disasters, and other aspects of life that we can’t control. So if your employees actually want to come to work, your office will be a nicer place to be 40 hours a week — and their positive attitude will also affect how they perform when they are there.

It Starts at the Top

As with most issues in the workplace, the tone of the workplace begins with the boss. If your employees know you have a sense of humor and don’t take yourself too seriously, they may relax a bit and lighten up. Here’s how.

1. Celebrate. Do you bring cupcakes when someone has a birthday, or take everyone out for “happy hour” after a difficult job is completed? Celebrations for any reason can lighten the mood in the office, and they also show your employees that you care about them as people. That connection is a surefire way to build loyalty.

2. Surprise Someone. Spur-of-the-moment events can help keep it light at work. One company I know hosts a “Surprise Tuesdays” every once in a while, where they have drawings for a weekend getaway and give gift cards to an Employee of the Week. Another organization I work with likes to brighten employees’ day with special treats — such as bringing in a popcorn machine on a Monday afternoon, or serving ice cream in the parking lot. My favorite surprise, though, is the organization that regularly sets up a putting green in the hallway. The CEO, who is a golf fanatic, challenges the staff to get a hole in one. The one who wins gets a prize, and impresses the boss. Sounds simple, and even a little silly? Well, the impact is profound. All three of these organizations had high turnover rates—until the boss decided it was time to lighten up.

3. Laugh. Research shows that “laughter is the best medicine,” in that it lowers blood pressure and calms harmful reactions to stress. Click here for more insights on that topic in this month’s Book review. It only makes sense, of course, that if your employees are happier and less stressed, they will be more productive — and healthier, which will have a positive impact on your health care costs.

4. Teach With Comedy. Studies also show that people learn more, better, and faster when they are laughing. Take this information to heart, and make your training and development programs more effective by including ice breakers. Humor also encourages participation, helps people retain information, and sparks creativity. Click here for comedian Fran Capo’s 10 Tips on How to Use Humor Effectively in Your Presentations.

5. Be Mindful. Putting on my HR hat, I must tell you that when you use humor in the workplace, you run the risk of insulting someone. Not everyone finds the same jokes amusing. There are also cultural differences around humor. Employees need to be careful that they only use humor that is non-offensive to others, and that may be easier said than done. So be conscious of this, and be sure that your employees understand your policies on harassment. Also, take the time to train everyone to be sensitive about cultural differences, so that you can keep it light — and legal.

What do you do to keep things fun at work? Click here to send an email with tips and ideas, and we’ll share them on the Be Inkandescent Magazine Facebook Fan page. Here’s to keeping it light.


About Barbara Mitchell

Mitchell is a human resources and organization development consultant who is widely known as an expert in recruitment and retention. She has experience in both the for-profit and not-for-profit sectors and has consulted to a variety of organizations around the world.

She served in senior human resources leadership positions with Marriott International and several technology firms in the Washington, DC, area before co-founding the Millennium Group International, which she sold in 2008.

Mitchell is a graduate of North Park University in Chicago, with a degree in History and Political Science. Contact Mitchell by email.

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