Comedy shows about work are on the rise. The first TV show that comes to mind is The Office, an American mockumentary sitcom about everyday office life set in Scranton (PA). It aired for nine seasons (2005–13) and can still be viewed on reruns. Since I worked in an office all my career, the show was not relaxing to watch after a long workday. Parks and Recreation, another mockumentary sitcom, is set in a Parks Department in a fictional Indiana town. This TV series pokes fun at elected officials and bureaucrats, something that I can enjoy as reality politics are too stressful.
My wife enjoys Hallmark movies. The scripts and characters are so simplistic that one can usually watch the first five minutes and guess the plot as to who will eventually fall in love. Many of the romances take place within a work environment. Watching the characters enjoy fine dining and leisurely coffee breaks during their workday makes me chuckle. This certainly did not happen during my office hours! It was difficult for me to occasionally run to a nearby Starbucks to treat my collogues to an upgrade on the bland office coffee.
In most office comedies, the boss is the one without the wit and receives the butt of the jokes. Can the boss be fun, witty, and crack jokes in the office? In a June 19, 2022 Financial Times (FT) article (Humor in the office matters, but can a boss be funny? Leaders need a little levity to inject some closeness and trust into workplace relationships), Emma Jacobs reflects on workplace comedy. “One CEO once told me the higher he climbed in his career, the funnier and better looking he became. Everyone laughed at his jokes and no one told him he looked rough. … I often wonder if climbing the corporate or political ladder requires the power hungry to take themselves so seriously that it chips away at their funny bone.”
The relationship between the boss and those who report to him or her is based on trust. A boss has the power to hire, fire, promote, demote, and compensate. The person who reports to the boss can either stay or leave, be competent or not, help or hurt the organization, and be ethical or not. Bosses gain trust through openness, listening, and respect. When a boss injects laughter at the right moments, it builds trust. For an organization to succeed, workers must discuss problems and admit to failures. This can only be done within trusting relationships. Organizations fail or commit expensive, recurring errors because there is a lack of trust. Grace is not abundant in untrusting environments.
Bosses can break tense moments by injecting levity. A well-timed smile or witty saying when difficult subjects arise allows the less powerful people to open up and be truthful. This can effectively be done during quiet meeting moments, breaks, and between agenda items. On many occasions, I started meetings introducing people with a funny story about them or myself. It sets a positive tone to a meeting and allows others to relax and be vulnerable. This balances difficult messages that may need to be expressed during in the meeting.
Most people don’t see much humor in the Bible, partly because humor is cultural and historically bound. In Mark 5:1–20, Jesus heals a man with an unclean spirit. The man said his name was Legion “for we are many.” Jesus sent the unclean spirit into a herd of swine that drowned in the sea. Legion is a joke on the Romans since their military units were named legions and the Jews despised them. In 1 Kings 18, Elijah jokes with the prophets of Baal who could not get Baal to light their alter of wood. Elijah cracked a joke suggesting that their deity had wandered away to relieve himself.
Simon Lancaster, a speechwriter who worked for politicians and business leaders said, Leaders “have to be funny. If your starting point is that you need trust to be successful in business or politics you need humor.” I agree. Showing humor makes you more human and trustworthy. Wit and laughter inject joy into the dullest work. It makes the workload seem lighter and invigorates the atmosphere.
I remember a serious US presidential election debate between President Ronald Reagan and Senator Walter Mondale. Reagan was asked about his advanced age and would it be a factor during the election. Reagan quipped: “I promise not to exploit the youth and inexperience of my opponent.” His joke caused such laughter that it stopped questions about his age. Even the most powerful person in the world can make serious discussions funny. God must have a sense of humor since God created comic creatures in God’s image. Let’s remember this when we get too serious at work and leave our humor at home.