Taking Humor Seriously
A Research Administrator Walks Into A Bar…
Myth: Our work is serious business and there is nothing funny about it.
We know the opposite is true. Research Administration is often pretty funny, bizarre things happen all the time and we just have to roll with it. Often though, we don’t talk about what’s funny and we don’t let ourselves be funny at work because the perception is that if we are funny at work we aren’t taking work seriously. In their book, Humor, Seriously: Why Humor Is A Secret Weapon In Business and Life, Jennifer Aaker & Naomi Bagdonas argue that the skill of humor can and often does elevate our work and grow opportunities and connection in our professions. The average 4-year-old laughs 300 times a day and the average 40-year-old laughs 300 times every two months. Laughter is innate to our lives and as we grow older, we shift it out of our professional lives and nearly out of our lives altogether. But it doesn’t need to be that way.
Laughing makes us feel good. It releases endorphins and makes us feel connected to each other. It diffuses tension and improves mental health. Seek opportunities to add humor into our work lives and let our personalities shine, especially as the pandemic has further blurred the line between work and home lives. Numerous studies have linked laughter to increased immune response, strengthened relationships, improved mental health and more. When it comes to the workplace, 98% of people preferred a colleague with a sense of humor and people with a sense of humor are viewed as 15% more competent and 25% more pleasant. When people laugh together, they are more likely to resolve disagreements and smooth over resentments. Aaker & Bagdonas point out that leaders who are perceived as funny are seen as 27% more motivating and inspiring and their teams are twice as creative than other teams because tensions in the teams are diffused and team members feel more willing to be vulnerable.
So how do we welcome humor back into the workplace? The authors recommend you start by noticing things in your life and environment that are odd or that are a juxtaposition or surprise. We certainly live in a time full of strangeness and jotting down those oddities is a great start. Also lower the bar: even if you aren’t the one telling funny stories at work, contribute to humor by laughing along or adding to other stories. Move towards laughter whenever possible. Humor is a skill that can be learned and honed. Frustrations abound in the world of research administration: systems fail, tensions rise, guidance changes, but if we can find what’s funny in them and share that with others, it’s an on-going opportunity for levity and laughter-for feeling good together. They also recommend building humor into existing work rituals: changing your email sign-off word to something light-hearted, adding memes to a summary, inviting someone to share a funny story from the weekend during the Monday morning meeting.
We can also use humor to lighten the mood in tense moments to help de-escalate tense moments. Research administration is high stakes work with important consequences. It’s meaningful work. We are submitting proposals, managing awards, conducting research, and maintaining compliance. And it is important to take that seriously. But we can treat each other to humor along the way. It’s an opportunity to improve culture in our work environments, build bonds, and inspire others.
Authored by Amy Raubenolt, MA, CRA, Senior Grant & Contract Specialist, College of Arts & Sciences
The Ohio State University