Laughing your way to the desk: a short history of humour in the office
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Laughing your way to the desk: a short history of humour in the office

Work is a serious matter, but it’s possible to be funny while working! Humour, long kept restrained and subdued in the work context, is now recognized as an essential component. As the 16th century French writer Rabelais wrote, “Laughter is what makes men human”, and humour contributes to teams’ cohesion and well-being. But to get the most out of humour, you have to know how to use it.

“It looks like you haven’t eaten for two days,” an employee teases a co-worker. Another may be the target of a remark when arriving late to a meeting. Then there’s the classic line ”Did you take the afternoon off?” that always lightens up the atmosphere. At home and at work alike, humour often smoothes the way for social relations. It would be wrong to deny ourselves a little humour.

Laughter was introduced into the corporate world in the early 2000s when well-being at work and the prevention of job stress were starting to be taken into consideration. David Autissier, a university lecturer at Paris-Est Créteil and the co-author of Petit traité de l’Humour au travail, (a small tract on humour at work) published in 2011, believes that humour establishes a special space for dialogue and better communication in a company. His research shows that 83% of employees think that humour has an important role at the office. “It creates a congenial, stimulating atmosphere conducive to teamwork,” he says. Today companies use laughter as a tool.  “Humour is a management style. It serves to create breathing spaces, especially in difficult times.”  When a speaker starts a meeting with a joke or colleagues tease each other, the humour is good for team cohesion.

Laughter, a synonym of energy and efficiency

Serge Grudzinski, a graduate of the Ecole Polytechnique and Stanford University, is the founder of the consultancy firm Humour Consulting. He has been working with big businesses like Bouygues, Chanel, Total and IBM for 20 years. “Humour is one of the essential traits of the human being, it brings with it pleasure, joy and intelligence. Teams that laugh inevitably work better. But the idea is not to split your sides with laughter all day long either,” he explains. “Humour gives us energy, efficiency, and better team work as well as the ability to call ourselves into question, mock ourselves, etc.” A specialist in the Irresistible Laughter method, Serge Grudzinski brings his expertise into play in exceptional and complex situations such as business transformations and contexts of severe loss of motivation. “But what I do as a highly-trained specialist, some managers who have a positive sense of humour can apply on a daily basis to play down the gravity of a situation, for example,” he admits.

Les Mots se réveillent is a firm based in Brittany that organizes training sessions in companies to develop humour and relieve day-to-day stress. A little humour can sometimes help resolve a problem. It stimulates creativity and sparks new ideas. And health-wise, laughter has nothing but benefits: people with a good sense of humour fall ill less frequently and recover more speedily. It’s an effective remedy that everyone can afford!

A question of sensibility

Humour is a complex and subjective tool that works differently for different teams, companies and office situations. For example, the collaborative site Office War lists geek-type jokes and teasing (but always nice) jokes one can make with co-workers. It’s enough to turn an open-plan office into a festive battlefield. But when you make a pun, tell a funny story, use a play on words or make an unexpected gesture, how can you be sure you will make people laugh and not hurt their feelings? In humour more than in any other area, the context and the sensibility of each person are determining factors.

In a company, employees will therefore avoid making smutty or sexist jokes and mocking or ridiculing others. These are examples of “negative” humour which can cause damage.  Autissier also warns of harsh, black humour, which can be perceived as a form of aggressiveness: “People often enjoy puns most, more than jokes even. They relax the atmosphere and establish a sort of empathy,” he points out. In Grudzinski’s opinion, defining what is off-limits in the office is more a matter of everyone’s common sense and good taste. “Be careful not to over-interpret, it’s a question of sensibility! Trade union relations and complex personal relations may not lend themselves to humour. There is also a limit from above: calling superiors into question may get on management’s nerves.”

As the French comedian Pierre Desproges once said, at work as in everyday life, you can laugh at everything, but not with everyone!

By Usbek & Rica

2020-01-14T16:57:01+01:00 admin