Humour? At work? Or important social functions? Are we having a laugh? Well, yes, we are. Along with Ricky Gervais, Leonard Rossiter, Richard Curtis, and the guy that draws Dilbert. Although we’re puzzled as to why some people are reluctant to join us, if only occasionally.

There are any number of weighty tombs on Emotional Intelligence In The Workplace – I typed that phrase (with Lots of Capital Letters, of course) without thinking, but it gets 13,400 hits on Google. But there are very few management books on one aspect of our emotional life: human beings like to laugh.

It would be easy to glibly write about laughter being the best medicine in hard times, so we might as well. It’s a start, isn’t it. We didn’t get where we are today without stating the obvious. (Sorry about the cushion, by the way.) If you’re currently facing a less than uplifting wedding, don’t read the following link if it’s your own, but Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall provided a masterpiece in finding the humour in ’emotional times’ in their Father of the Bride‘s speech.

Writing in The Observer’s selected articles pull-out of The New York Times on April 5 – in an article called Managing the Office in Hard Times – Kelley Holland made a remark we’d applaud without tittering:

Smart managers also enable employees to bring more of their whole selves to work …”

Victor Borge would probably have agreed: as he pointed out “Laughter is the shortest distance between two people.” It has its practical side too, as Kurt Vonnegut pointed out:

Laughter and tears are both responses to frustration and exhaustion. I myself prefer to laugh, since there is less cleaning up to do afterwards.”

But it seems we can be more afraid of a quick giggle than seems reasonable. A search for ‘humour’ at The Institute of Directors website found nothing. (We have hoped for at least a directorial chuckle …) CIPD’s website has plenty of references to humour, but  its T&Cs warn against ‘humour that may inadvertently offend’. Management Today has published articles that take a similarly cautious line.

We therefore respectively ask that our readers don’t post links to the following video clip on CIPD’s website – or play it on their iPods during appraisal meetings, although we suspect both speaker and subject would be (loudly) pleased at the idea. As those of you familiar with Monty Python may know, their work draws fulsomely on the rich Anglo-Saxon linguistic tradition. (Say no more, etc.)

(If you don’t have speakers, you can read the transcript here.)

Teasing aside – well, I suppose we must – should laughter be on the managerial taboo list? Why should smirking be confined to outdoor areas? If leadership is about making an emotional connection, why rule out a uniquely human trait? As President Eisenhower pointed out “A sense of humor is part of the art of leadership, of getting along with people, of getting things done.”

No doubt, sometimes it can be slightly shocking to laugh – or to be given the opportunity to, but ‘Shock and Ha-ha’ has its place just as much as ‘Shock and Awe’. Humour can give us back a sense of perspective, soothe frayed tempers and unruffle our feathers, even remind us why we should stay when our gut instinct is to leave. Laughter has its places – and the workplace is one of them.

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