Is Having Fun at Work a Myth?

Guest post by funny guys Adrian Gostick & Scott Christopher, authors of the new book, The Levity Effect: Why It Pays to Lighten Up.

As a public speaker and trainer we’ve discovered over the past two decades that the most memorable presentations and the speakers with the highest evaluations have one thing in common: humor. Well, two things really: humor and fun. They’re not the same thing, though they spring from the same well: Levity. (That’s enough colons to open a proctology lab, btw.)

Levity, as defined by your average dictionary, smacks of negativity—“inappropriate,” “frivolous,” “flippant,” “trivial,” even “giddy.” Giddy?

With descriptors like those, levity’s workplace value ranks well below Communication, Trust and Teamwork and maybe just a molecule above Sexual Harassment, Bullying, and Embezzling.

Let’s face it, levity is misunderstood. After all, who wants a “goof off” to handle company finances, deal with an irate customer, or worse, pilot the company jet?

But the truth is, it pays to lighten up. And that’s the definition of levity that we like best—a lightness of manner. It has a more positive ring to it. In our definition of levity we add other image words: upbeat, patient, respectful, good-natured, joyous, and possibly witty, clever, even hilarious. And not just in the realm of public speaking and training.

You may think it’s hard to measure the return on investment of levity at work—whether a go-cart outing, online vacation photo contest, or a well-timed one liner—but we’ve found a bevy of successful leaders in companies such as Boeing, KPMG and Nike who attest that fun is an essential component of their people, business and innovation strategies.

Our book, “The Levity Effect: Why It Pays to Lighten Up,” is backed up by a one million-person research study and offers up lots of ways to make money while making merry. Here are a few quick ideas that paint the proper picture of Levity…

· If they’re laughing, they’re listening: Whether you’re about to make a presentation to senior management to get funding for your big idea (outsourcing to primates), pitching a sales prospect who could make your year, or trying to engage a troop of distracted Campfire Girls, great communicators know that a little humor goes a long way toward creating unforgettable messages.

· Comedy can coax creativity: The work world isn’t suffering from a dearth of tedious, stiff brainstorming sessions. Research shows you can boost creativity scores by exposing people to humor or play before you start a meeting.

· Laugh all the way to the bank: Managers who use more levity experience higher employee productivity, engagement and retention. People with a sense of humor climb the corporate ladder more quickly and earn more money than their peers. And executives hire and promote the humorous more often than the dour. Wouldn’t you?

· Put a spring in your voicemail: As soon as you get into the office today, lighten up your tired voicemail with some quick company trivia or at least a modicum of joy in your voice. That is, after all, how we greet people face to face.

· Send a better email: It’s easy to hide behind the impersonal nature of email: “It has come to our attention that if the current trend of not cleaning up after one’s self in the break room isn’t soon curtailed, it will be closed.” Instead, type messages as you would say them: “Folks, I’m sure the custodial staff is drawing up plans for a strike. We’ll have scabs crossing the picket lines, angry janitors swinging broomsticks, Molotov cocktails. If we pick up after ourselves in the cafeteria this needless violence can be averted. Thanks!”

Adrian Gostick and Scott Christopher are authors of The Levity Effect. Learn more at