When Jenny Holt met Chantilly Elementary teachers last fall, they had no time to joke around.
They were reshaping the curriculum as the school became a magnet, finding ways to reach kids at different skill levels and from different cultural backgournds. Dufficult stuff.
The teachers were stressed out!
Laugh more, she told them. Clip jokes from magazines or comics from the newspaper. Pin them on bulletin boards. Publish them in the school newsletter. Look for things to laugh about everywhere, and laugh about them together. Your jobs might still be very difficult, but they'll seem a little easier.
It worked. Thanks to Holt, a Charlotte psychotherapist, who spoke last week to members of Women in Communications Inc., the school now has a "joke bulletin board" and a "joke of the month." There's a coffee hour before school and a "secret pals club." The stressful work is still there, but the school is a happier place to do it.
"It's a very warm, caring environment," Frances Waller, Chantillly's principal, said, crediting Holt for the change.
Holt cited medical research that links laughter with good health. She also cited corporate "fun committees" that have cropped up in various companies where managers are trying to boost morale and loyalty among workers.
How can you make humor work for you in the workplace?
"Start telling stories about yourself," Holt said. "Every one of you is unique, weird individual to everyone else. You have to learn to laugh at yourself."
Holt also advises, "Let others know you made mistakes, and laugh about it."
If you're the boss, you have most power to make the workplace more fun. But, you also have the biggest responsibility for setting the tone.
Watch out for "sexual innuendos, ethnic jokes that may be offensive, or jokes about any disease or handicap that sets a person apart," Holt said. "Sometimes you have to watch your political jokes as well."