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Interview With Chris Robert

September 20, 2013 Leave a comment

EscapeLG

INTERVIEW WITH CHRIS ROBERT
(reprinted from Business Week)

Do you have a cranky boss? Some bosses act as though they’re allergic to humor, bristling when employees joke around in the office and fretting over the line between humor and harassment. But Chris Robert, assistant professor of management at the University of Missouri-Columbia’s Robert J. Trulaske Sr. College of Business, says joking around on the job can actually have a positive effect on productivity and employee retention. Robert, whose findings have been published as a chapter in a recent edition of the journal Research in Personnel and Human Resources Management, spoke about his findings to Smart Answers columnist Karen E. Klein. Edited excerpts of their conversation follow.

Why did you decide to do an academic study on workplace humor?

I’ve always appreciated how humor is an important part of the day-to-day work life, and I’ve always been interested and intrigued by how humor works. I’ve also done research on the subject of cross-cultural management styles and noticed how some humor works well in our culture, but not in other places.

Have you found that humor is definitely culturally specific?

Sure, somewhat. But on the other hand you typically hear things like, “Don’t use humor in international business settings, it’ll fall flat or you’ll offend someone.” But my experience is that that’s not the worst thing in the world. And the upside is really positive: Almost nothing makes you more comfortable than sharing a laugh about something universal, like kids. So sometimes humor works exceedingly well across cultures to make people feel better about each other and about doing business together.

I approached the topic of humor initially from the cross-cultural angle, but then I decided to survey the literature and found that there wasn’t much out there in terms of empirical work on humor. There are lots of armchair theorizers, but not many good studies. So a business doctoral student, Wan Yan, and I looked at the fields of anthropology, communications, and sociology to see what might inform what we’d expect to see in business organizations.

And what did you find?

We found pretty good theory and evidence suggesting that humor at the individual level is important. The use of humor, and the ability to produce and make humor, is associated with intelligence and creativity, two things highly valued in workplaces. More important, the link between humor and positive emotions seems strong, which is intuitive, and there’s also a strong correlation between positive emotions and workplace performance.

So are you saying that a funny employee can help promote a happy, productive workplace?

No one has really studied humor as an important part of employee performance directly, but we do know that positive affect in the workplace increases individual performance. And humor is one of the things associated with a positive affect, which increases not only productivity, but also the ability to communicate well with the boss, co-workers, and customers. It also enhances the degree to which you feel bonded, cohesive, and part of the group in the workplace.

That’s where employee retention comes into it. If you have positive emotions about your job, you’re less likely to quit. And maybe part of that is because of the fun you’re having in the break room. You might get a better job offer, but it will take more to draw you away when you like where you work and you like the people you work with.

It seems as if we often get negative reactions to humor from those armchair theorizers or from the legal perspective. Why do you think that is?

Humor enables people to make comments that they might not otherwise make. If you can wrap something up in humor and say, “Oh, I’m just kidding around,” you might be able to say something offensive that you wouldn’t say without the humor. So I think often people blame humor in general when someone’s making an offensive comment within humor. I think of humor as the medium, not the message. If someone makes a sexually charged comment, but they use humor to do it, should we blame humor or should we blame the person’s intentions? We don’t want to shoot the messenger.

In the same sense, doesn’t humor also give employees the freedom to criticize or complain about their jobs?

Sure. If the business owner or manager is someone who doesn’t respond well to direct challenges from employees, they might find a way to criticize indirectly with humor. In that case, I’d advise the business owner to take the message seriously. The person making the joke might be challenging you, which could be a problem, or you might be getting a subtle communication from one employee that other employees also feel. If an employee makes a joke about a supervisor, other people probably agree with that joke. Humor producers know that other people are listening to their joke and they’re more likely to make it if they think the others will appreciate it.

In that sense, humor can be used effectively by the business owner to understand how employees are thinking. It could create an opportunity for you to address a complaint or criticism that you wouldn’t hear about otherwise.

How did your study find that humor relates to workplace creativity?

The primary theory about humor, which is well accepted, is that it stems from incongruity. In other words, we find jokes or comments funny because they are linking two things together—perhaps through a punch line—that you wouldn’t normally link together, or that shouldn’t go together. Essentially, that’s what creativity is, too: Putting things together in a unique way, like using the Internet for something people wouldn’t have thought of before.

It’s likely that some of the same neural processes enable both humor and creativity, so those two things kind of go hand in hand. A number of studies show that a funny person is also likely to be a very creative person.

How do your findings translate to the hiring decisions that small business owners have to make?

That’s an interesting issue, and in fact we’re working on a paper about that right now. Should you select the funny guy for a job? I don’t necessarily think you want to select the class clown, someone who’s constantly joking and has to be the center of attention all the time. That could be too much for a workplace, it could get distracting for the other employees, and any boss would probably have valid worries about that kind of person. But if you can get some more subtle indicators in an interview that someone has a good sense of humor—say, they appreciate humor or they find things funny—that might be someone you want to have around. The other thing is that humor is viral. When someone’s laughing, it’s kind of contagious and it can spread a positive general benefit to the workplace.

NOTE TO ALL READERS: This blog is making a transition to a new home here By next month the transition will be complete and this blog will no longer be at the WordPress address. Thanks for your continued attention and support!

A Dream Team

August 29, 2013 Leave a comment

A friend of mine, Tom Daly, gave a seminar on teamwork in which he asked us to facilitate a fun and revealing exercise. He took me and seven other volunteers from the group to the back of the room and instructed us: “When I say, `GO!’ I want one leader to stand in the middle, and the rest of you to lock arms with each other in any way you choose around the leader. Then, in collaboration with the leader, you’re going to move this small folding table with the tray on top (and a coffee mug on top of that) from one corner of the room to another.” I immediately had a vision of how it could be done quickly, and when Tom asked us how much time we needed, I said we could do it in two minutes.

When Tom gave the signal to proceed, I jumped in the middle and asked everyone to lock arms and face me, except for the person closest to the table, whom I had turn and face away from the circle but still locking arms with the rest of us. He asked me if one person could pull the whole table and I said, “Yes, absolutely! You can do it.” With little time for processing, I had to be assertive and think fast to get the job done in two minutes.

We proceeded to move en masse toward our goal. Everyone else was laughing as we shuffled across the room and down the aisle, with the guy hauling the table bringing up the rear. Then an obstacle showed up in the form of an overturned chair in our path. Before I could give an instruction, the person at the front of the circle kicked the chair aside. “Good job, macho man!” I shouted, which provoked more laughter from the rest of the room. We reached the corner of the room and I told the team to rotate so that the person with the table would be facing the corner. Then he set the table in place, and the task was finished in a minute and twenty seconds.

This humorous exercise was a great learning experience for all of us. Tom asked me my thoughts about leading the group. I replied that I probably would not have led if not for the clear vision I had for getting it done simply and quickly.

Each person on the team gave their viewpoint from the questions Tom asked of them: Did they feel like an integral part of the team, even though they had no verbal input? One person suggested it was easier to yield to the strategy given by the leader and work with a team of strangers than among her co-workers (perhaps knowing their flaws all too well and the personality dynamics between them). Were any of them tempted to dispute the leader’s strategy? A few were, but said they ceded to the leader due to time limitations. Was it fun? Unanimously, a good time was had by all!

Excerpt from the book, “When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Lighten Up!”

NOTE TO ALL READERS: This blog is making a transition to a new home here By next month the transition will be complete and this blog will no longer be at the WordPress address. Thanks for your continued attention and support!

Morale of the Story

August 22, 2013 Leave a comment

Historically, incentive programs and meetings have been the early victims of economic downturns. In the current economy it has impacted the industry; there are reports of cancellations, delayed plans, and general cutbacks. With that as background, it is wise to restate the need for continued use of incentives and meetings, even if on a somewhat contained basis.

Some managers react to these situations by immediately cutting all “unnecessary” expenses without looking at overall consequences. “Unnecessary” becomes a very subjective evaluation. Others assess the value of each program before deciding the reasonable course of action.

There are now many studies that show a very definite relationship between motivation, the work environment, and bottom line profits. Satisfied workers produce at a higher, more efficient rate. The management dictum that employees are satisfied just to have a job in difficult times has long been refuted. Keeping employees and customers satisfied especially in difficult times is the basis of reaping healthy profits.

Keeping your employees engaged and giving them the feeling of being part of the team and appreciated will help them with the mental stress and will improve their outlook. An employee with a positive attitude is just as contagious in improving morale in the workplace as a disgruntled employee is in destroying morale.

In the book, “Contented Cows Give Better Milk”, the authors compared business results of companies considered employers of choice with a comparable group of Fortune 500 companies. (An employer of choice is a company that is primarily people-driven.) Although the Employers of Choice had about 1/3 of the revenue of the others at the start of the study, over a 10-year period (one that included a recession), they:

 Outperformed the latter about four to one in revenues;
 Increased net income 202% vs. 139%;
 Roughly doubled the net income of the latter group;
 Added 79,000 jobs while the latter LOST 61,000 jobs

The point: simply that a motivated, committed work force — one that continues to be recognized by incentive programs that reward excellent performance — continues to achieve growth while others stagnate.

Using these programs correctly is a competitive advantage, especially under difficult economic conditions. Measuring the success of incentive programs and meetings – whether return on investment (ROI) or return on objectives (ROO) or anything else – is the best way to show the value. Measurement as a tool for planners and business leaders is essential at all times. It addresses requirements of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, the need to demonstrate results to management, and, often, the justification for one’s job.

Both incentive suppliers and corporate planners say that they are increasingly asked for data related to measuring program results. ROI analysis also helps a company evaluate the impact of an incentive program across the entire operation, something that is crucial to avoiding long-term problems.

According to the MPI Foundation, “…ROI is THE single most important tool for a meeting professional. In today’s economy, with more and more meeting professionals answering to their Procurement office, the emphasis on ROI has never been more important.”

Employee incentive programs reward exceptional employees for reaching work goals, achieving milestones or simply doing a good job. These types of programs are designed to offer incentive and motivation in employees and increase the overall performance of the company. An incentive program is a great way to show employees that you value their input while at the same time boosting your business potential.

NOTE TO ALL READERS: This blog is making a transition to a new home here By next month the transition will be complete and this blog will no longer be at the WordPress address. Thanks for your continued attention and support!

What is S.D.S.?

August 1, 2013 Leave a comment

Juggling Life

Consider this an “unrestraining order” from the court of Terry Braverman: Today we are all afflicted to some degree with S.D.S. (Spontaneity Deficiency Syndrome). It is appalling in our society how much we miss enlivening opportunities by censoring our own spontaneity. “Well, I’m trying to find time to be spontaneous,” a harried business acquaintance once muttered. Indigenous tribal people tend to release their pent-up emotions through singing, dancing, chanting, and wearing wild costumes. How many of us would feel comfortable doing that in front of our families?

We have largely suppressed or forgotten spontaneity in the maze of our busyness, our plans, our rational thinking, and our control mechanisms. S.D.S. is a major cause of stress in our world. When we are in a lot of physical pain it takes some strong medicine to get relief. If the pain is emotional, we often need a strong jolt to regain our perspective. A dose of silly nonsense may just do the trick.

One time I was on the phone with a rep from a customer service department to lodge a complaint. My frustration was growing and I decided to vent by singing my complaint in an operatic voice. The rep was laughing hysterically and said, “Wait, I’m putting my supervisor on the line!” I continued to sing and the supervisor resolved my issue immediately in the spirit of fun established, as opposed to tension and conflict.

I cringe when I see people being scolded for acting too silly. Of course there are situations that demand an overall serious tone, but more often than not it’s the “grow up and get serious” parental mentality at work, stifling the natural stress relief of playful expression. It will amaze you to know that the word silly comes from the Old English word saelig, which was a blessing. It meant “to be happy, prosperous and wise.” On the other hand, adult comes from the word adulterate, meaning “to corrupt, debase, or make impure.”

Some claim variety to be the spice of life…I say it’s spontaneity.

Humor Says No to Drugs

July 18, 2013 Leave a comment

In my seminars and workshops, it thrills me to witness accumulated stress draining from the faces and bodies of participants. I’ve received a number of positive letters from various companies and organizations, but none were more gratifying than the following:

Dear Terry,
Your seminar on humor was great. I particularly related to your discussion on stress, and others sharing their experiences of how stress had manifested itself. I identified totally. Since your seminar, I’ve had no more headaches, no more clenched jaws, no more Valium, Xanax, Halcion or sleepless nights. I’ve shared my experience with co-workers. Thanks for a real eye-opening exchange.
Larry Simons

I spoke again with Mr. Simons, three years after the fact. He is still free of the afflictions and takes no medication. I think of the workshop as a collective creation between myself and the participants, where credit is due to no one in particular other than group synergy and intent. Making such a dramatic impact on Mr. Simons’ health says a lot for the value of humor and play. Clearly, there was a shift in his thinking that took place in an atmosphere of mirth, causing a positive physiological response. Dr. Deepak Chopra once said, “Our thoughts, without reservation, tend to make us healthy or sick.” I might add that our reservations (doubts), without changing our thoughts, tend to make us sick.

In times of despair, we instinctively turn to humor, comedy, and play for its uplifting effects. For the individual suffering mental and physical anguish associated with their circumstance, humor can lift the spirit and reduce suffering for the moment, if not permanently.

Excerpt from an Amazon best-seller, When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Lighten Up!

c Mental Floss Publications
All Rights Reserved

Miles to Go Before We Sleep

July 11, 2013 1 comment

Sleep

According to a recent study, the only folks getting enough sleep on a consistent basis are those who have stopped working, and are living out their days in relaxation. ABC News reported that the same was true for people whose mental or physical conditions make them unable to work. Surveys done by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention revealed that the amount of sleep for people varies by age, and younger people are getting the least amount of sleep among the tested age groups. The proper amount of sleep, which is about 7-9 hours for adults, is obtained by people upon retirement. Sleep deprivation is typically caused by work, academic, and family stress, plus lifestyle habits, such as late-night television, Internet use, ingestion of caffeine or other stimulants, and late night partying. Some helpful thoughts about getting enough shut-eye:

• Sleep seems to organize memories, as well as help you to recover memories. After you learn something new, sleep may solidify the learning in your brain;

• Parts of the brain that control emotions, decision-making, and social interactions slow down dramatically during sleep, allowing optimal performance when awake. REM sleep seems especially important for a good mood during the day. Tired people are often cranky and easily frustrated;

• Lacking adequate sleep makes the immune system become weak, and the body becomes more vulnerable to infection and disease;

• Some sleep experts suggest that neurons used during the day repair themselves during sleep. When we experience sleep deprivation, neurons are unable to perform effectively, and the nervous system is impaired;

• Growth hormones are released during sleep, and sleep is vital to proper physical and mental development;

• Depression is two times more common for college students, than in the general population, affecting nearly 20% of students. Researchers believe that lack of sleep contributes to this high rate. Additionally, inadequate amounts of sleep cause increased susceptibility to illnesses such as colds and flu;

• Many college students make the mistake of staying up late or pulling all-nighters to prepare for an exam or to complete an assignment. In reality, not getting enough sleep makes it more difficult for them to process, analyze, and retain information, and manage stress;

• Keep regular hours. Try to go to bed at the same time and get up at the same time every day. Getting up at the same time is most important. Getting bright light, like the sun, when you get up will also help;

• Taking a nap during the day is not recommended because it reduces the amount of time a person sleeps at night. If necessary, take your nap early in the day and for no more than 20-30 minutes;

• Keep your bedroom at comfortable temperature. Not too warm and not too cold. Cooler is better than warmer;

• Do not exercise at least 3 hours before bed;

• Avoid bright light around the house before bed. Using dimmer switches in living rooms and bathrooms before bed can be helpful;

• Bedtime routines are helpful for good sleep. A cup of herbal tea an hour before bed can begin a routine. Sleeping pills and other sleep aids actually reduce sleep quality;

• Avoid looking at the clock if you wake up in the middle of the night. It can cause anxiety. This is very difficult for most of us, so turn the clock away from your eyes so you would have to turn it to see the time. You may decide not to make the effort and go right back to sleep;

• If you can’t get to sleep for over 30 minutes, get out of bed and do something boring in dim light till you are sleepy;

• Avoid sugary foods like chocolate, which make falling asleep more difficult. If you are hungry close to bedtime, eat a light carbohydrate or dairy snack instead. In small quantities, eating something light can sometimes help you fall asleep. Have you heard the notion that a bottle of milk puts a baby to sleep? The same can work for adults;

• Watching TV or using laptop computers late at night is not recommended. Reading in bed can be a problem if the material is overly stimulating and you read with a bright light. If it helps to read before sleep, try soothing material and make sure you use a very small wattage bulb to read. A 15 watt bulb should be enough;

• Don’t stress if you feel you are not getting enough sleep. Know you will sleep eventually.
(Resource: National Sleep Foundation)

Food & Folly Go Together

June 27, 2013 Leave a comment

Summer is here, and the time is right to commune with family and friends over lavish meals, aided and abetted by healthy gales of laughter.

The positive impact that laughter has on our well-being is nothing new. Throughout history, clowns, fools and court jesters plied their trade not only to entertain, but to heal people, impart wisdom, and exercise diplomacy, acting as ambassadors to other kingdoms for building goodwill and defusing conflict. The court jesters pranced around the imperial courts with a patented blend of whim and wit. It was their privilege to say whatever they wished. Usually a great ruler was surrounded by flatterers, and only from the jester did he ever hear the truth.

The jester’s business was to tickle the royal funny bone, divert the king from the tedium of his daily affairs, and serve a slightly skewed yet enlightening perspective on those affairs of the court. Jesters also assisted his Majesty’s digestion, rubbing the regal tummy the right way with their lively presence at the dining table. “Laughter is one of the most important aids to digestion with which we are acquainted,” said the Prussian professor Hufeland. “The custom in vogue among our ancestors, of inciting laughter by jesters and buffoons, was founded on true medical principles. Cheerful and joyous companions are invaluable at meals; obtain such, if possible, for the nourishment received amid mirth is productive of light and healthy blood.”

Excerpt from the book, “When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Lighten Up!

c 2013 All Rights Reserved
Terry Braverman
Mental Floss Publications