JUST KIDDING: For a more productive office, forget glaring bosses and co-workers who are buried in the books. To better workplace performance, jump-start creativity, increase communication and office bonding, tell a joke or a funny story instead, said University of Missouri-Columbia management professor Chris Robert.
”For individuals who can produce or appreciate humor – that seems to be associated with both intelligence and creativity,” said Robert, who wrote a theoretical paper on humor in the workplace with graduate student Wan Yan.
Further, both the processes of sharing something funny and enjoying a story can boost co-workers’ moods. And Robert’s study suggests a strong link between mood and workplace performance and outcomes. Happier employees, he said, tend to have better communications skills and are less likely to quit.
Certain types of joking around, however, do not always carry across cultures, Robert warned.
”Most people in the U.S. can joke around, pick on their boss,” he said. ”In China, that would be much less socially accepted.” Asian countries put much more emphasis on status differences, he said – and American-style humor could upset those corporate hierarchies.
The study, ”The Case for Developing New Research on Humor and Culture in Organizations: Toward a Higher Grade of Manure,” was published in the August issue of Research in Personnel and Human Resources Management.
NO MORE GRAY FLANNEL SUIT: Flexible hours, choosing one’s own projects and being able to work in pajamas might seem appealing, but before deciding to join the rising number of temporary or self-employed American workers, make sure to plan for financial and emotional stability.
The Freelancers Union, a nonprofit organization, offers some tips for those wishing to strike out on their own, who now are about 31 percent of the work force, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office.
_ Get health insurance. If traditional individual insurance setups are too costly – one provider’s monthly cost ranged from about $130 per person to $1,000 per family – consider joining a catastrophic medical insurance plan, which is intended to supplement regular insurance and often has low monthly payments.
_Save. Transfer a set amount of money into savings every month and set up an individual retirement plan.
_ Don’t forget taxes. Many freelancers and contractors get paid in a lump sum, but taxes still have to come from those paychecks. Research which deductibles apply to the self-employed or part-timers on the Internal Revenue Service’s Web site.
_ Meet others. Joining local professional associations and networking can be a good way to line up more offers and stay connected to people in the absence of a regular workplace.
PRESENTS: As the holiday season approaches, gift-giving anxiety mounts. Working in a large firm multiplies the issue: One must decide who gets a present, what to buy, how much to spend and if the gift carries even a hint of impropriety.
According to an unscientific Time Inc. Giftscriptions survey, 31 percent of people are throwing away their co-workers’ presents.
Setting up a ”Secret Santa” gift exchange between randomly selected officemates doesn’t necessarily help: 41 percent of respondents still bought additional presents for co-workers, and more than half report disliking the gifts they received.
Instead, keep gifts small, inexpensive and personalized, said Leah Ingram, an etiquette and gift-giving consultant. Stay away from presents that are overtly sexual or could be misconstrued, such as a male supervisor giving a female employee a spa gift certificate.
And when feeling pressed to churn out treats for a large number of co-workers involved in a project, from assistants to managers, ”there is nothing wrong with baking cookies…packaging it up and giving it to everyone,” Ingram said. ”You can get creative.”
The Giftscriptions phone survey, conducted in September, queried 1,000 random Americans by phone.