There is a widely held notion that the people with the best senses of humour on the planet include funeral directors or proctologists. I suspect that it isn’t a widely-held view that HR professionals in the workplace have any particular sense of humour.
As you probably know by now, on April 23rd we are holding a ½ day seminar with a lunch that is basically an opportunity for HR professionals to have a good laugh. In planning for this event, I’ve had to think a lot about what others might find humorous in the work environment.
Recently, I was attending a lunch put on by one of my clients. The lunch was held for a large team, following a successful roll-out of a program, and everyone was in a good mood. To provide some background, the group is from all walks of life. diverse, A vast majority of the group is university educated, and while most are Canadian born, many have direct connections to other parts of the world. There is an equal mix of men and women on the team at all levels. Their jobs are demanding and virtually all struggle with work/family/life balance.
One thing this group is really good at is throwing “zingers” at each other as part of how they operate. Zingers happen in meetings, over e-mail or in instant messaging (something the company permits). Using a zinger is a way of one-upping another person, or taking the conversation to a higher level or taking it in a completely different direction. It takes wit to throw a good zinger. Zingers are best when they come from out of left field. For this group, throwing zingers is almost a form of sport, and it is done in fun, not with the purpose of singling out or intentionally deningrating others. Taste is not always an element of what is said and most zingers are full of double entendres. The group seems to be good at avoiding blurting out things that would be considered directly hurtful or overtly in violation of human rights, but I will say at times what is said comes up on my radar has having potential repercussions down the road and I have had to create awareness about the potential consequences of this sort of comraderie. Privately, I’ve polled a few people in the group about how they feel about what happens when this group gets into zinger mode and quite frankly, no one seems any worse for wear. In fact they seem to relish it and good ideas and great relationships have been created in the process. Considering the success of this team, I don’t think my client would appreciate me putting a stop to something that is an underlying element of their effectiveness although they know I couch it from time to time. (which sometimes becomes a subject of a zinger). Sadly for me, I do feel like at times I have to stop myself from enjoying these displays only for the fact that I have a professional obligation to turn on my radar. (I get to laugh later).
So why are funeral directors and proctologists considered to have a great sense of humour and human resources professionals are not? Sheesh, even actuaries enjoy a higher status on the humour scale than we do. Is it because we have to be hypersensitive to the reality of the diversity of the working environment? Is it because a good portion of the job involves strategy of who is coming or going in an organization (and that’s not funny to others!), so we are perceived as not being entitled to a sense of humour? Is it because the English language is so easily misinterpreted and we are keenly aware of this? Is it because we are expected to have a measured, perhaps formal response to everything (which makes us potential closet humourists)? Or (look in the mirror for this one) is our profession attractive to individuals who naturally do not have a sense of humour? I am curious as to what others think.
For those who do attend the seminar and lunch on the 23rd, I want you to come into this with the notion that this is a party among colleagues, and it is our own day for throwing zingers. I look forward to seeing you there. Last chance at http://www.theemployerschoice.com/en/seminars/2010-the-hr-odyssey-agenda.htm.