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'A funny thing happened to me on my way to the council meeting ...'

Using humor in the Native workplace

How many of us associate work with fun and laughter? Unless you are among the very, very small percentage of people who actually work in a fun and festive environment - like a circus (No, I mean a REAL circus) - then we would not otherwise consider our workplace fun.

How many of us woke up with the thought, ''I can't wait to get to work today, it is going to be so much fun''? And for some of us veteran or seasoned workers, we tend to take our work very seriously. We may not endorse fun or humorous behavior in a work setting. (It's just not professional!) However, for productive reasons, we may want to re-think our acceptance of some fun and laughter in the workplace.

From a cultural perspective, as Native peoples, we are often stereotyped as being serious and stoic people, showing little emotion; however, this is not the case with most Natives. By nature, I believe most of us possess a good sense of humor, and when comfortable, we may openly display our social and amusing character that comes naturally to us. Kidding and joking among one another is common with most Native people. Although we enjoy fun and laughter, we may refrain from it if we feel it is inappropriate, such as in the workplace or if we just aren't comfortable with the environment.

When it comes to humor, there are some benefits to engaging or even promoting the use of fun and laughter in the workplace. These include personal, as well as organizational, benefits. For instance, studies have shown that laughter is healthy for us, as it relieves stress, reduces blood pressure, improves our immune system and enhances our overall mental state of health. In the work environment, fun and laughter can help to create cohesiveness among workers; it helps to promote team building and can improve the creativity of workers. Humor relieves tension and allows for employees to function more productively, and can also create an atmosphere of happiness and comfort, easily felt by clients or customers.

But before you break out with the whoopee cushions and disappearing ink, you might want to first consider what kind of fun and laughter is appropriate to promote in your work environment.

Some ways to encourage fun and laughter in the workplace include organizing and supporting some social activities among employees, such as holiday or birthday celebrations for your staff, and holding culturally related activities to promote socializing among employees. (They will also help to preserve your tribal culture.) These types of activities can be among the most effective ways to promote a sense of unity among staff.

Promoting special events and fun activities in the workplace can also go a long way in allowing employees to develop positive relationships without the pressures of some work-related job tasks or projects. Other ideas include coming up with ''theme'' days or having a ''funny board'' put up to share ''tasteful'' jokes and cartoons.

Incorporate humor into your routine processes: start meetings off with a joke. Tell an amusing story. This will help to get your staff in a good mood and allow them to settle into a comfortable and productive mode before you begin. Include humor in informal memos to lighten the tone, such as memos reminding staff to comply with office rules.

However, when promoting humor in the workplace, you must be careful to protect employees from harmful behavior, such as offensive humor. Vulgar or inappropriate humor must not be allowed in the workplace. Employers and managers must be reminded of potential legal consequences to this type of behavior.

Another way to create a happier work environment is to try to focus on the positive aspects of your employees. Do not be overly critical of their behavior. Have and share a good sense of humor about things that are usually seen as serious. Being able to accept your mistakes or losses with good nature may help to ease some of the stress.

You might take an ''OK, that was for practice, this time for real'' attitude. Don't let this be mistaken for ''settling'' for substandard work, but rather a more positive way of nurturing progressive development in your business. There will always be failures and losses, but they should not stop us or discourage us.

Where does it say that we can't have fun at our job, no matter what it is? When openly accepted and even promoted, fun and humor in the workplace can improve not only the environment, but make your work an enticing place for customers and clients. In addition, it can improve the productivity of our employees, helping to eliminate and reduce stress, as well as improve the quality and outcome of our products and services.

Lucinda Hughes-Juan has many years of teaching and training in the fields of business and management, with a focus on the cultural dynamics in Native businesses and organizations. She is an enrolled member of the Tohono O'odham Nation. She holds an MBA in global management, and is currently a Ph.D. candidate in business and organizational management. E-mail her at