Thursday, August 14, 2014

Humor and Laughter in the Workplace

"Live by this credo: have a little laugh at life and look around you for happiness instead of sadness. Laughter has always brought me out of unhappy situations" ~ Red Skelton

As I get ready to head out on vacation next week – and have fun – it seems like a good time to reflect on having fun and how important it is to laugh. Laugh with our friends and family; laugh at ourselves, and at the absurdities of life. We lost someone this past week who was a master of humor – Robin Williams. If nothing else, he taught us the value of humor and laughter. We can realize that value in the workplace as well.

There is plenty of scientific support for the fact that laughter is good for you. It is good for you physically, bringing oxygen rich air into your body that stimulates your lungs, heart and muscles and releases endorphins from your brain. Laughter reduces stress and relieves tension.

But we don't need the science to know that we like to laugh. It simply feels good.

On the other hand, business is serious stuff. There are always issues, challenges and stress. There are financial pressures, goals to meet, competitive pressures, market pressures and the ever present need to grow. There are employee issues, product issues, customer issues and supplier issues. Doesn’t seem like such a fun place to be, does it?

It can be. And I would argue that it should be, at least some of the time. Life is too short to spend eight or ten hours a day in a high-tension, soulless place with nary a smile.

"The human race has only one really effective weapon, and that is laughter. The moment it arises, all our hardnesses yield, all our irritations and resentments slip away and a sunny spirit takes their place." -- Mark Twain

Laughter and humor can have positive effects in the workplace.  "When you display a sense of humor, when you laugh at yourself, it helps your corporate image," said international business speaker Michael Kerr, quoted in an article for SHRM Online. "It can help your business come across as more humble, as more human, as more personable. It can put a human face to what we otherwise perceive as being a very sterile, corporate, soulless entity."

A survey conducted by Robert Half International found that 97 percent believe it’s important that managers have a sense of humor. Nine out of 10 said humor is important for career advancement, while 84 percent think that people with a good sense of humor do a better job.

The SHRM article also cited a study by market-research company Ipsos that showed a statistically significant correlation between managers’ sense of humor and their employees' willingness to remain with the organization. And in a CareerBuilder survey, employers presented with two equally qualified job candidates chose the one with the better sense of humor.

So, again, there’s plenty of evidence that we should be having fun at work, too! Your co-workers will enjoy working with you, helping to increase productivity. Humor is a key factor in creative thinking, allowing us to see things in new ways. Humor helps bring teams together, creating a more cohesive group. When people feel like they are a meaningful part of the team, they are more likely to fully contribute to the success of the team. Those long hours, doing the work that three people used to do, and tedious, repetitive types of jobs can suck the life out of us. Humor and laughter helps bring back the life and revitalize your team.

Lighten up. Take time to look at the absurdities of life. Enjoy life while it’s here to enjoy.

I’m off to enjoy a vacation. I’ll be back in a couple of weeks. Keep laughing…..

Thursday, August 7, 2014

The NFL, Ray Rice and “Ban the Box”

And let’s add unions just for the heck of it….

Unless you’ve been trekking the Outback or floating the Amazon, you’ve probably heard or read about all the furor of late over the "punishment" meted out to Ravens running back Ray Rice as a result of an altercation he had with his then girlfriend (now wife). That incident, in and of itself, is not my focus. To be clear, I am not advocating for more, or less punishment than what the legal system, the NFL and/or the Ravens have meted out. Nor am I minimizing the seriousness of his actions. But I do believe that there are some very important issues that are not being addressed.

On July 31st, Democratic Senators Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy of Connecticut and Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin sent letters to Roger Goodell and Ravens General Manager Ozzie Newsome asking for harsher punishment. "The decision to suspend Mr. Rice for a mere two games sends the inescapable message that the NFL does not take domestic or intimate-partner violence with the seriousness they deserve," They continued in part:

"Mr. Rice’s suspension reflects a disturbingly lenient, even cavalier attitude towards violence against women. We therefore urge you…………reconsider and revise Mr. Rice’s suspension to more adequately reflect the seriousness of his offense. …"

The following day, the Maryland contingent added their voice. Letters were sent to the Ravens and the league. Reps. Elijah Cummings, John Sarbanes, Chris Van Hollen, John Delaney and Steny Hoyer –- the second-highest-ranking Democrat in the House -- all questioned the punishment. Sens. Barbara A. Mikulski and Ben Cardin also called for a tougher penalty.

I appreciate that these elected officials are of the opinion that domestic violence deserves the condemnation of the behavior by society and by our legal system. On that, we can all agree. However, they are calling for harsher punishment than the duly appointed officers of the court felt appropriate. The New Jersey prosecutor chose not to pursue the case after Rice entered a pre-trail diversionary program. Argue that however you want; campaign for harsher penalties for first –time offenders if that’s what you believe. That’s what our country allows us to do. But, since the legal system has already spoken on this matter, these folks, and many members of both sports and general media now feel Mr. Rice’s employer should do what they feel the legal system did not do. Remember, Rice was not convicted of anything. In fact, the charges levied can be removed if he successfully completes the diversionary program and he was never jailed on this charge. He has not had prior violations of any NFL policy.

Here’s the disconnect as I see it: All of these elected officials are from states that have various levels of "ban the box" laws (statewide, localities or state employment, etc.). You know, those laws that say an employer cannot inquire of, or consider, an applicant’s prior criminal record, at least until the applicant has been chosen for an interview or in some cases, not until the post-offer stage of the process. Concerning both applicants and current employees, many of these laws also say the employer must take into consideration many factors before rejecting the applicant or taking employment action, such as the nature of the conviction, the relatedness to the job in question, the overall criminal history and so on. And don’t even think about looking at an arrest record; employers are usually only able to consider actual convictions. The state of Maryland has even tried several times (unsuccessfully) to pass laws that would shield conviction information from employers so they cannot use that information in employment decisions.

So, let’s break this down very simply: They feel strongly that employers should not be able to hold violations of our laws against an applicant or employee to the degree that they would prevent employers from even having that information upon which to decide who is the best candidate for hire, and yet they are demanding that someone who does not even have a conviction, who presents with a single incident, be punished more harshly and have that one (albeit serious) mistake held against him for a long time to come. How does that make any sense, and doesn’t it seem just a bit hypocritical?

There has also been a fair amount of criticism that the punishment Roger Goodell visited upon Rice was inconsistent with other rule violations. They felt it unfair that repeat drug use violations carried harsher penalties. You know, something that might actually have a bearing on a player’s ability to do his job. So, are you all forgetting that the NFL is a unionized workplace? Yep. They have a collective bargaining agreement that spells out exactly what penalties will be imposed for various infractions of NFL policies, just like any other unionized workplace. If these folks feel strongly that these penalties are out of balance, they really ought to be speaking to the union about that, don’t you think? But, then, they support labor unions, so I doubt that will happen.

My point is that you simply can’t have it both ways. You cannot pass laws that purport to protect people with prior criminal convictions, thereby giving them a "second chance" (and therefore hamstringing businesses), and then turn around and call for exactly the opposite to happen because……………………well, because why? That’s a great question. Why this inconsistency? Which stance is their true stance? And which is simply grandstanding?