Let’s face it. It’s scary out there. 9.2% unemployment. Downsizing. Outsourcing. Political gridlock. A future unknown…..

Workplace stress is on the rise, and the toll it can take on you, co-workers and employees can add up to a big expense for your company. Experts tell us that each year in the United States $300 billion is spent on stress-related compensation claims, reduced productivity, absenteeism, health insurance costs, direct medical expenses and employee turnover. That is about $1500 for every employee in the country.

A workplace attitude survey done by Harris Interactive showed:

  • 63% of respondents say job pressures interfere with their family or personal life.
  • 60% said that the job is negatively affecting their physical and emotional well-being.
  • 52% said that people in the workplace need help in managing anger and stress.
  • 55% said that the company they work for offers no training on how to manage anger or stress. (and that really pisses them off)
  • 35% said that their co-workers are harder to get along with due to stress.

Enter humor in the workplace. According to Humor-Laughter.com (and really, could I cite a more credible source on the subject?), a recent survey by Industrial Work and Training group, found respondents reported that when there is fun in the workplace:

    * people enjoy coming to work
    * they are more motivated
    * they enjoy better relationships with one another
    * there is better communication
    * there is more cohesiveness and team spirit
    * the morale is high
    * and the workplace atmosphere is conducive for creative problem-solving

Now, before you run down the hall to give an atomic wedgie to Bill in Accounting, there are some ground rules that should be applied. First, no atomic wedgies. Humor has its pitfalls, the greatest of which just might be the uber sensitivity we have developed in the corporate world from the political correctness movement. It is entirely possible that a fully fledged humor campaign designed to release stress could wind up putting your Human Resources Director in a stress induced coma. (Those of you thinking that is not a bad thing need to speak to Human Resources NOW. You have issues.)

I am not a politically correct person. I have been known to tell people who are easily offended to "grow a pair", which appears to be a phrase that drives my Human Resources Director into a stress induced coma. However, I recognize that humor has boundaries, and it is possible to create a work environment that is light hearted and fun that does not alienate and offend. Managers can do a lot to create a relaxed and enjoyable atmosphere. Smile at people. Talk to them. Encourage light hearted talk and banter in the office. Employees gathered in the hallway talking and laughing are not necessarily signs of reduced productivity. It may actually be improving the output of your personnel – unless they are also pointing at you and whispering, in which case you should have security break the gathering up with truncheons.

Personally, although I have assured staff that floggings will continue until morale improves, I have reduced those to less than two a week. The rest of you, lighten up. And that’s an order.

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