Only a few areas in life that are more stressful than the workplace. So, not surprisingly, humor is often used as a power tool to deal with stress. Research shows humor not only increases productivity, enhances creativity and reduces stress, but it also improves relationships, boosts morale and even wards off burnout in the workplace. 

Manager Makeover: Mastering the balance of workplace humor

Only a few areas in life that are more stressful than the workplace. So, not surprisingly, humor is often used as a power tool to deal with stress. Research shows humor not only increases productivity, enhances creativity and reduces stress, but it also improves relationships, boosts morale and even wards off burnout in the workplace.

The benefits of fun and play at work
A study at California State University found that employees of all ages who have fun on the job are more productive and more creative. These employees are better decision makers, better team players, and have a lower incidence of absenteeism and lateness. A sense of humor is also good for an employee's career. Workplace fun can:

  • Help you and your co-workers get to know each other as people.
  • Enhance problem-solving skills.
  • Encourage innovation.
  • Boost morale.
  • Reduce stress and tension.
  • Increase cooperation.
  • Foster open communication.

Tips for managers
Managers can help employees see the value of fun and play at work, while ensuring that no one feels left out. Consider the generational mix in your workplace as an opportunity to come up with creative ways to help employees enjoy their jobs and feel good about working together. You'll also be helping them to understand how valuable it can be to work with people of all generations. Special work events and celebrations are always a positive way to bring people together. But smaller, everyday things can instill a positive, open, and fun atmosphere at work.

  • Ask employees to share their ideas for having fun at work. This will give you a sense of what's enjoyable for employees of all ages and a better idea of whether employees of different generations enjoy the same types of fun activities at work.
  • Be proactive about bringing the generations together on work projects and assignments. Positive energy and good ideas often flow from people of different generations working together. When employees from different generations work well together, commend them on their teamwork and collaboration. Be sure to model cross-generational inclusiveness.
  • Encourage employees to find mentors from different age groups within the team. Realize the value of cross-generational mentoring. A Mature may be able to teach a Millennial a lot about corporate politics; a Millennial may be able to teach the Mature a new process or technique learned in school or at a recent job with another company.
  • When planning a special event or work celebration, seek input from employees of different generations. Consider asking a Gen Xer to help organize one celebration, then someone from another age group to participate in the planning of another event. By mixing generations in a fun social activity gives them the opportunity to work together in a less threatening situation that a major work project.
  • Make meetings more personal. Set aside a few minutes at the beginning or end of meetings to catch up with each other and make personal connections. Tell a quick story about something that happened outside of work and encourage employees to do the same.

However, humor doesn't always act as a stress reliever. When used inappropriately, it can alienate people and even create a hostile work environment, which only creates more stress. What's behind the delicate balance of offensive versus funny humor? How can workers enjoy the stress-relieving benefits of humor without the damaging effects of offensive jokes? When it comes down to it, it's really not about the humor; it's about the message behind the humor.

Managers need to help their employees understand what's considered appropriate office humor. About.com put together some guidelines to consider before telling a joke:

  • Think about your message. Ask yourself what is the point or underlying message, of your joke. Are you using humor to say something that you wouldn't say to someone without the joke attached?
  • Know your audience. Would your joke be offensive to certain people present? Do you know your audience well enough to say the joke?
  • Leave serious topics alone. If a topic is controversial or hurtful to someone else, don't joke about it.
  • Think twice before joking about politics. Know your audience and avoid making political jokes that would offend those with a different ideology.
  • When in doubt, leave it out. If you're not sure how a joke will be received, it's best not to tell it. Some people believe society is too politically correct or those who are offended by certain jokes are too sensitive, but it's about respecting the people around you. No one wants to be the butt of jokes. It's best to joke about a neutral topic.

We think of fun as something that only happens spontaneously. But it's also something you have to work at. The payoff is worth it. When you take advantage of the many opportunities to enjoy the people you work with, you bridge generation gaps and take more pleasure in your job.