Canadian Underwriter

Why insurance leaders need to bring laughter into the (remote) workplace

February 10, 2021   by Jason Contant

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It’s nearly one year into the COVID-19 pandemic, and Canadian property and casualty insurance leaders likely aren’t in a joking mood. But a recent blog from Harvard Business Review suggests that would be helpful these days: shared laughter can improve work performance and accelerate a feeling of closeness and trust.

“Now let’s acknowledge the elephant in the room: We’re writing this in February 2021, a year into a pandemic that has killed millions and put many out of work,” wrote Jennifer Aaker and Naomi Bagdonas, a professor and lecturer, respectively, at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business. They are co-authors of Humor, Seriously: Why Humor is a Secret Weapon in Business and Life.

“Is this really a time for laughter? Yes. We believe that leaders weaving humour into this weird new world are the ones truly helping their employees to get through it.

“From the executive who had her five-year old make signs for her to hold up in meetings (“What are the next steps?,” “You’re on mute”) to the CEO who “accidentally” left his screen share on during a company-wide Zoom call as he typed, “Things inspirational CEOs say in challenging times” into Google, to the senior director who challenged her leadership team to create TikTok dance videos to share with the broader group, these managers are showing that a sense of humour — and humanity — are welcome at work, especially during difficult times.”

In fact, research shows that leaders with any sense of humour are seen as 27% more motivating and admired than those who don’t joke around, Aaker and Bagdonas wrote in How to Be Funny at Work, published Friday.

“Their employees are 15% more engaged, and their teams are more than twice as likely to solve a creativity challenge — all of which can translate into improved performance,” the authors observe.

“Studies even show that something as simple as adding a lighthearted line at the end of a sales pitch — like “My final offer is X and I’ll throw in my pet frog” — can increase customers’ willingness to pay by 18%. A bad dad joke can literally help you get paid.”

So how do you bring humour into your brokerage or insurance firm?

First, recognize that everyone is funny in their own way. It’s possible both to hone your sense of humour and to learn to deploy it more effectively. “People appreciate almost any kind of levity, provided it’s not hurtful or offensive,” the blog authors wrote. “And it’s not hard to stay on the right side of that line.”

The next step is to get to know your own and others’ humour styles. There are four main types:

  • Stand-Up: bold, irreverent, and unafraid to ruffle a few feathers for a laugh.
  • Sweetheart: earnest, understated, and use humour that lightens the mood
  • Sniper: edgy, sarcastic, nuanced — masters of the unexpected dig
  • Magnet: expressive, charismatic, and easy to make laugh

Next, try a few simple attempts at humour. One way to do this is to start with a simple observation, and then build misdirection to reveal the “unusual thing” you’ve noticed.

For example, if there’s something you find even remotely amusing — such as the realization that you have no idea what people videoconferencing from home are wearing below the waist — you can use a technique called the rule of three, creating a short list with a last, unexpected, item.

“You might say, ‘I miss so many things about the office: having spontaneous chats in the break room, leaving encouraging notes on my colleagues’ desks, and wearing anything other than pajama pants.’”

You can also play around with small everyday communications like out-of-office replies and email sign-offs, which help enrich the texture of your workplace in an easy, risk-free way. One example: “Yours, heavy caffeinated,” or “Still wondering who let the dogs out,” following an unexpected appearance by a pet on the last team Zoom. (This last one gets bonus points for using another technique: the callback, in which you joke about a previous amusing incident, the blog said.)

“Humour comes across as a kind of magic, but it’s learnable,” said Aaker and Bagdonas. “It’s up to all of us — and especially leaders — to bring more of it into our workplaces, thereby boosting our well-being, team performance, and even our organizations’ bottom lines. Now more than ever, it’s time to take humour seriously.”


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