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Humour in the workplace: the ultimate HR resource

by Evert Akkerman
in Human Resources

While HR is usually not the place people think of when they need a good laugh, humour can add value to a workplace – and that’s where it gets interesting.

CAOs, department heads, managers, and supervisors with a sense of humour tend to have a huge positive impact on morale. They set a joyful tone, start meetings with an ice-breaker, and get everyone in an optimistic frame of mind. They use humour as a management tool, bringing people in, encouraging them to speak up, and keeping everyone focused. Especially in job interviews, it’s great to start with a lighter note, as it breaks the tension and puts applicants at ease. The message is that the work is serious, but also fun.

By not using this valuable tool – gift, really – we are short-changing ourselves and the organizations for which we work. But, why is humour under-utilized at work in general and in HR in particular?

Fear Holds Us Back … But It Shouldn’t

Managers fear that employees will lose respect for them and start kicking soccer balls in the hallways. In our hypersensitive culture, HR people fear saying the wrong thing, offending anyone, or being misinterpreted. We want to be polite, correct, and get along; and, in this context, humour may actually be un-Canadian. I agree that it can be tricky, but here’s a thought: I don’t take people seriously unless I can laugh with them. There is another factor at play in HR: it’s still developing as a profession and many practitioners strive to be taken seriously. Very seriously.

Self-deprecating remarks, if genuine, are a sign of humility, befitting servant leadership. Managers who make use of humour show that they don’t take themselves all too seriously. They are likely to have better relationships with their staff and get more out of their people than the sour, gloomy variety that lurks around with a solemn expression. We know it, because we see it.

Each new hire affects your culture and your bottom line, and the top position is of crucial importance. If you choose a Triple-A type with not a hint of levity for the CAO position, you will have someone in the driver’s seat who will always try to keep tight control. It won’t be a lot of fun working for this person, which will cascade down through his or her direct reports. Your municipal offices will become a sullen, sour environment full of sullen, sour staff. Good luck selling that as a fast-paced, inspiring place to work.

It’s Okay to Be Human

In workplace interactions, humour can:

  • reduce or defuse conflict;
  • show self-confidence;
  • enable creativity;
  • motivate people;
  • boost team spirit;
  • build relationships; and
  • reduce distance between people.

Humour is part of human nature, and therefore has its rightful place and function on the work floor. It’s okay to be human while at work, instead of going through the motions and following procedure on autopilot. When interviewing, you can use it to make a point and distinguish yourself from the pack – as an employer or a candidate. Quoting Dr. John in the song New Looks: “Laughter is part of what we’re after.”  MW

Municipal World Insider and Executive Members: You might also be interested in the full version of this article or in Evert’s other article: Bridging the employee engagement gap. Note that you can now access the complete collection of past articles (and more) from your membership dashboard.


Evert Akkerman is an HR Professional based out of Newmarket, Ontario and founder of XNL HR. In 2015, he won the inaugural Randstad Canada Award for Innovation in HR. In 2016 and 2017, the Canadian HR Reporter awarded him a spot in the Top-25 HR Professionals in Canada.

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