In these trying times for bankers, a little humor can go a long way

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On any given day, a dozen folks will message me the latest joke or meme highlighting some bizarre (yet actual) occurrence, with an added “2020” caption.

Most of the memes and jokes are premised on seldom funny things. However, humorous and offbeat observations about 2020 tend to bring some cathartic relief to people.

It’s also a good reminder of the important role humor plays in the workplace. Levity helps individuals deal with stress, uncertainty and hardship — it’s been a soapbox topic of mine with bank leaders for many years.

Over the years, I’ve often quipped how amazing it is that, somewhere along the way, the phrase “get to work” became synonymous with “stop having fun.”

(If you wanted to test it, simply walk up to any person or group appearing to enjoy themselves on the job and say, “hey, get to work.”)

The term is universally known to mean someone is not taking things seriously or not focusing enough on getting a job done. To be fair, goofing off in the workplace happens. And there are times and situations in which humor may be out of place.

My point, however, is that smiles, laughter and humor can be real performance enhancers. Smiles and laughter release dopamine, serotonin and endorphins into the body. As opposed to substances you’d hope never to find in an employee’s system, those are incredibly beneficial.

Beyond that, it provides a fairly accurate reading of how well coworkers get along with each other, as well as how comfortable they feel around their managers based on the presence, or absence, of humor.

My antenna goes up whenever I spend any amount of time with branch teams who are very reserved and formal with each other on the jobsite. Where some folks see seriousness, I see probable friction.

People who work challenging jobs for long hours with coworkers they like and trust tend to smile and laugh easily. When trust or respect is low, humor tends to be low.

Managers at all levels should be keenly aware that humor, smiles and laughter have a powerful influence on the culture and productivity of most workplaces. In fact, the more stressful the job, the more likely humor will be present amongst the most cohesive teams.

More importantly, folks in leadership positions tend to have a dominant influence on whether teams are relaxed and comfortable enough to laugh during their jobs. Controlling the laughter of a group is a way of exercising power by controlling the emotional climate of the group. That dynamic can be exhausting and emotionally draining to a team if it’s misused.

Many employees can tell stories of having to gauge what kind of mood their manager was in to know what kind of mood they would be allowed to have that day.

On the flip side, most employees can easily recall the leaders who created great workplace environments through clear communication, empathetic leadership and a healthy sense of humor.

For many, 2020 has presented especially difficult challenges to the morale of many bank teams. For instance, the near-universal wearing of masks impacts the way bankers interact with customers and coworkers. People are being restricted from the ability to see (or use) smiles to share a universal sign of goodwill.

Masks, social distancing and other protocols greatly impacts one’s ability to bond socially. If ever there were a time when healthy doses of humor and brevity can be helpful to bank teams, it is now.

Whether you lead a small team, region or entire organization, understand that empathy, sincerity and humor you project matters almost as much as the words you say.Confident and secure leaders tend to smile and laugh freely. And those leaders comfortable with even the self-deprecating humor helps humanize them to others, and brings groups together through shared experiences.

Purposefully fostering more smiles and humor with your teams and customers these days isn’t funny business. It’s good for business.

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Employee productivity Employee relations Employee communications Employee engagement Employee retention Coronavirus