The Intersection of Humor and Business by Andrew Tarvin

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The Intersection of Humor and Business

photo: flickr / brett jordan

Ever since I can remember I’ve been obsessed with efficiency, so much so that I’ve even brought new furniture (off a site like to help improve my efficiency recently. It’s not just now though, even from before I can remember being obsessed with efficiency because I was born 3 weeks early. Apparently even in the womb I wanted to get things done faster.

I later put that efficiency obsession to good use: I became an engineer. I graduated from The Ohio State University with a degree in Computer Science & Engineering and started working as an IT project manager at Procter & Gamble right out of school.

And now, years later, I teach businesses about the value of using humor in the workplace. For many, it seems like a big jump, the polar opposite of what I was doing before, a 180 degree turn. The truth is, it’s closer to a 360 degree turn (yes a full circle).

The Need for Humor

Being as efficient as possible is great for things like managing projects, running a factory, and getting your milkshake from the airport McDonald’s two minutes before your flight.

The problem is that being efficient isn’t good for humans. People have emotions, personalities, and a weird paranoia about what other people might think of them. Efficiency doesn’t work.

How do we know? Consider that:

  1. 83% of Americans are stressed out at work.[1]
  2. 55% of Americans are unsatisfied with their jobs.[2]
  3. 47% of Americans struggle to stay happy.[3]

Of course it’s even worse in Disney World where, statistically, only 1 out of 7 Dwarfs is Happy.[4]

These challenges lead to 70% of the workforce being disengaged, costing US companies up to $500 billion in lost productivity every year. Improving the employee experience has of course therefore been a top priority for many businesses looking for ways to make the workplace a more positive one.[5]

We can’t be efficient with people; humans require us to be effective. Luckily we have something that can help.

The Benefits of Humor

People who use humor at work are more productive,[6] less stressed,[7] and happier.[8] In fact there are at least 30 benefits of humor that apply to the workplace.

Humor improves communication skills, builds relationships, and enhances problem solving. It increases productivity, strengthens leadership, and boosts health. It makes work less boring, more fun, and makes it something you actually want to do.[9]

I wrote earlier that what I do now, consulting organizations on how to use humor to be more effective, is full circle from when I was a computer engineer. Why? Because humor works. And I deploy what works.

As an IT project manager, I helped organizations implement projects that made people more effective using technology. As a humor engineer, I help organizations implement projects that make people more effective using humor.

It could be as simple as a humor keynote to introduce the value of humor (like in my TEDx talk) or as in depth as teaching teams the steps to effectively implementing humor into their work (like in my humor course).

Either way, it’s all helping do their work better while enjoying their job more.

How to Get Started

If you’re ready to get started using humor, great. Do it! Sure, you could hire me to help your company use humor (please do) but you can also get started right away.

When we talk about humor in the workplace, we aren’t talking just about comedy. Using humor in the office isn’t about making work funny, it’s about making work fun. It’s about doing things a little differently that causes people to smile.

Here are a few tips to get you started:

  1. Know your MAP.

The Humor MAP stands for your Medium, Audience, and Purpose. Knowing how you are going to execute your humor (medium), who’s going to receive it (audience), and why you’re using humor to begin with (purpose), can help make sure you pick the right type of humor to use.

  1. Be inclusive.

The best type of office humor is inclusive-it is about bringing everyone together as opposed to singling anyone out. Working on projects as a team, learning improv together, and telling stories can be ways of using humor without excluding people around you. It’s important to root out inappropriate, sexual humor that is designed to degrade certain members of your workforce and that could make them feel severely uncomfortable. This is often classed as abuse and could sometimes go further than mere jokes; perhaps so far as to require legal assistance from a sexual harassment lawyer to help the victim seek justice against their tormentors and harassers.

  1. Stay positive.

Sarcasm and satire are common types of humor but they aren’t necessarily well-suited for the workplace. Positive humor maintains the right mindset (a focus on opportunities instead of problems), while still bringing fun into the workplace.

Ultimately, it all starts with making a choice. Making the choice to do something to be more productive, less stressed, and happier. Making the choice to enjoy your job and do it better. Making the choice to use humor at work.

Andrew Tarvin has worked with 100+ organizations such as Procter & Gamble, ESPN, and Nationwide on topics including humor in the workplace and mastering communication skills. He is the best-selling author of the app+book 501 Ways to Use Humor at Work and former FunnyBizz speaker. Learn more at

[1] Stressed Out at Work? Susan Adams., April 2013.

[2] The Science of Workplace Happiness. US News, 2010.

[3] US Happiness. Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, 2008.

[4] Snow White and the 7 Dwarfs. Disney, 1938.

[5] State of American Workplace. Gallup. 2013.

[6] All Work and No Play Isn’t Even Good for Work, David Abramis. Psychology Today, March 1989.

[7] Anticipating a Laugh Reduces Our Stress Hormones, American Physiological Study. Science Daily, April 2008.

[8] Laughing All the Way to the Bank. Fabio Sala. Harvard Business Review, F0309A.

[9] 30 Benefits of Humor at Work. Andrew Tarvin. Humor That Works. November 2014.

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