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Posts Tagged ‘human resources’

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.

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Bending Rules for Better Results

September 5, 2013 Leave a comment

“Most managers,” said futurist Alvin Toffler, “were trained to be the thing they most despise…bureaucrats.” Bureaucratic workplace rules, policies and red tape are a major frustration, both for the manager who has to enforce them, and for the employees who have to endure them. Employees often cite baffling workplace rules as an impediment to getting their work done efficiently. Some workplace rules are essential to deal with important considerations such as safety. But arbitrary edicts for every aspect of office life act as handcuffs, limiting people’s ability to achieve the best results.

In the book Hacking Work: Breaking Stupid Rules For Smart Results, authors Bill Jensen and Josh Klein show how today’s top performers are taking matters into their own hands to circumvent all sorts of rules just to get their work done. These are dubbed benevolent hackers who find ways to get around stupid rules to get smarter results. The authors cite an example of employees frustrated because their boss insists that all presentations be delivered in PowerPoint. But collaborating with others on PowerPoint slides took forever to upload (and download) files on the company’s Microsoft SharePoint servers.

Breaking the rules by surreptitiously using Google Documents for the collaborative work, and saving to PowerPoint at the last minute, saved hours of frustration and helped these employees accomplish more. Another example cited is of an employee who was tired of spending six to eight hours a month doing his expense reports according to his employer’s cumbersome forms. He now uses Mint.com to create a one-pager of his expenses and even uses Salesreceiptstore.com to order duplicate sets of receipts to match his expenses so he doesn’t have to carry pockets full of receipts.

What these two examples teach business executives is that there’s an urgent need to keep up with the rapidly changing work environment, not only in terms of how people work today, but also what tools are available out there. The authors state that “the tools we have outside of work are leapfrogging past what we use on the job.” Preventing employees from using these tools makes their life needlessly more difficult. And many will find a way to work around firewalls and use them anyway because these tools allow them to work more efficiently.

Reprinted portion of article by Bruna Martinuzzi, founder of Clarion Enterprises Ltd., and the author of two books: Presenting with Credibility: Practical Tools and Techniques for Effective Presentations and The Leader as a Mensch: Become the Kind of Person Others Want to Follow.

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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!”

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Airing It Out

August 15, 2013 Leave a comment

flightinformation

Let this funny airline complaint letter be a reminder of how customer service is the life blood of any business…

Dear LIAT (AIRLINE),

May I say how considerate it is of you to enable your passengers such an in-depth and thorough tour of the Caribbean. Most other airlines I have traveled on would simply wish to take me from point A to B in a hurry. I was intrigued that we were allowed to stop at not a lowly one or two but a magnificent six airports yesterday. And who wants to fly on the same airplane the entire time? We got to change and refuel every step of the way!

I particularly enjoyed sampling the security scanners at each and every airport. I find it preposterous that people imagine them all to be the same. And as for being patted down by a variety of islanders, well, I feel as if I’ve been hugged by most of the Caribbean already. I also found it unique that this was all done on “island time,” because I do like to have time to absorb the atmosphere of the various departure lounges. As for our arrival, well, who wants to have to take a ferry at the end of all that flying anyway? I’m glad the boat was long gone by the time we arrived into Tortola last night — and that all those noisy bars and restaurants were closed.

So thank you, LIAT. I now truly understand why you are “The Caribbean Airline.”

P.S. Keep the bag. I never liked it anyway.

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Creating a “Riot” on the Freeway

August 8, 2013 Leave a comment

Patterns of behavior can be interrupted and changed instantaneously, providing either a much needed sense of levity in the midst of adversity, or even a lasting shift in life perspective.

In 1992, civil unrest broke out in Los Angeles after the Rodney King verdict. The radio blared the news: Mayor Bradley had just imposed a dusk to dawn curfew in the city. I was driving on the Hollywood freeway during the rush hour, traffic typically bumper to bumper. Looking out the passenger side window, I saw fires ablaze on the horizon. I sniffed smoke from burning buildings that saturated the already smoggy air. I glanced at my fellow commuters, alert to the fear engraved on their faces. Perhaps they were wondering if their houses and neighborhoods were ablaze as well.

The surrounding anxiety was compelling me to respond. Something must be done to ease the sense of despair! But I can’t just leap out of the car and do a stand-up routine on the freeway… I’d probably get run over. Ah…my prop bag was behind the seat. I blindly groped around with my hand and pulled out a show stopper – a two-inch red clown nose. I stuck it on my face. Commuters around me were doing double takes which said, “He must be a tourist. He doesn’t know what’s happening.” I’m sure they were not wondering if I was available for children’s parties. But when I smiled at them, they got the message. I wanted to convey that in spite of the circumstances, we can take a moment to detach and suspend the downward spiral of distress.

The effect was remarkable. People laughed, smiled back, gave the thumbs up, honked horns, nudged their driving buddies and pointed at me. Kids jumped up and down in the back seats and giggled. People of all ages and backgrounds were sharing a moment of fun in the face of adversity. The crowd attitudinal consensus around me had changed. Truly it was one of the finest moments I’ve experienced!

Excerpt from the book, “When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Lighten Up!
c 2013 Mental Floss Publications
All Rights Reserved

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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.

CRACKING DOWN ON “CHINGLISH”

July 25, 2013 Leave a comment

Chinese sign

Leading up to the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics, organizers promised to crack down on awkward, Chinese-inflected English, known as “Chinglish,” and asked the public to help police bad grammar and faulty sign translation. With 500,000 foreigners expected for the Olympics, taxi drivers who can’t speak English — or signs that mangle the language — it could be an embarrassment and distract from the $40 billion being poured into rebuilding the city for the games.

Throughout Beijing, examples abounded:
A store selling tobacco products advertises: “An Excellent Winding Smoke.”
On the floor at Beijing’s Capital Airport, a sign reads: “Careful Landslip Attention Security.”
On a billboard, this mysterious message: “Shangri-La is in you mind, but your Buffalo is not.”
In an elevator, parents are warned: “Please lead your child to tare the life.”

Despite the problems, a government official said one-third of Beijing’s 15 million residents speak some English, a claim that was challenged by a local reporter from China’s state-run CCTV. “I think 5 million is a big number,” the reporter told the official. The official stood by the figure, but conceded the vast majority of the English speakers fell into a category he labeled “low level.” “They can have very simply conversations, like: ‘Who am I? Where am I going?’”

Efforts continue today to improve signage in English around Beijing’s tourist attractions.