Humor in The Workplace

April 8, 2022 in ,
By Barry Culman and Andrew (AJ) Goetz

I bet when you read the title to the article, the last person you would expect to be writing this is the CFO of FMP Consulting—a boring, old Certified Public Accountant (CPA). Well, I’m here to tell you that lawyers aren’t the only ones who tell bad jokes; we accountants have plenty of our own. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • The official job description of a CPA: Someone who solves a problem you did not know you had in a way you don’t understand.
  • How do you drive an accountant completely insane? Tie them to a chair and mess up their excel formulas.
  • What’s the difference between a CPA and a Lawyer? The CPA knows they’re boring.
  • What do you call an accountant without a spreadsheet? Lost.

I find that humor can be a very useful tool for connecting with others and breaking the ice. It can assist in everyday communication, whether internally within the company or externally with various partners, employees, and customers. But the details around when, how, and why to crack a joke are all very critical and there are four important rules to follow when doing so:  

  1. Don’t force it
  2. Read the room
  3. Choose a safe subject
  4. Don’t cross the line
Rule #1: Don’t force it

Some people are very comfortable trying to add a little humor to various situations, and others are not and that’s okay. If you fall into the latter category, then I would suggest you not force the issue. Keep to the communication style you are used to and let others crack the occasional quip or tension-relieving joke. Forcing yourself to “try to be funny” is typically not a good idea. There are plenty of other ways of getting recognized in a discussion. Find your strength and leave the “LOL” comments to others.

For those that tend to wear the hat of the “funny one”, we all know that there is a time, place, and method for dropping the occasional joke and doing so can really be an asset to work-place discussions. 

Rule #2: Read the room

There are of course numerous ways to bring a smile to a meeting, but always watch your audience, however big or small. Never force the issue, if everyone is serious, don’t stray from that. If you see that many are not paying attention, though, and are looking at their phones or turning their cameras off during a Zoom call, then it may be time to change the energy in the room and bring some laughter to the event. (Note: This is much easier to manage with in-person meetings—it is more difficult to read the room on large virtual calls). 

Rule #3: Choose a safe subject

The safest place to go to bring a little laughter to a discussion, is the old, reliable, self-deprecating humor. Making fun of yourself, to ease the tension in a difficult discussion or to get everyone comfortable at the beginning of a meeting, can be a very safe and effective tool. The best story I have ever read about this was about a football coach who was really upset with his team. Their execution of the plays was not up to his high standard, so he gathered the team together. Red-faced and angry, he started with:

“We are going to start over with the basics of the game.” He holds up a football and says “guys, this is a football.” 

The captain of the team, who recognized the tension in the room, raised his hand and said: “Coachyou know I’m not the smartest guy on the team, so can you slow down a little? You are going too fast for me.”

Rule #4: Don’t cross the line

Now for the most important point—what not to do. This is not your poker group, book club, or old college buddies. Jokes and attempts at humor are very different in that environment as compared to the workforce. Don’t cross the line! It’s important to remember that, at the end of the day, you’re at work. Everyone should have the expectation of feeling safe, secure, and respected at their job. Though of course, some comics love to push the envelope, poke fun at others, and make people uncomfortable for the sake of a joke, that is not appropriate in the office. The goal of bringing humor into the workplace is to bring people together and make others feel more comfortable, so be sure to exercise caution and never push the envelope. If you’re unsure about a joke, it’s best to keep it to yourself.

With that, I leave you with some free material, safe for the office:

If an accountant’s partner cannot sleep, what do they say?

“Dear, could you tell me about your workday?”

Barry Culman joined FMP in 2018 as their CFO. He has over 40 years of business management experience and has successfully built and operated various technology products and services company servicing both commercial and government customers.  He is a CPA with an undergraduate degree from the University of Maryland, and an MBA from American University.  Additionally, he currently also supports other mid-size companies as a financial advisor to their executive team.  He is very active in his community and is the Secretary of the Chantilly Youth Association, league administrator to high school aged basketball league and supports numerous other local organizations.

Andrew (AJ) Goetz joined FMP Consulting as a Human Capital Consultant II in January 2022. He received his Bachelor of Science in Economics from The George Washington University and his Master of Behavioral and Decision Sciences from the University of Pennsylvania. He has prior experience in both the financial and nonprofit sectors and his primary areas of interest are organizational effectiveness and project management. Outside of work, he enjoys playing sports, watching movies, and going out to eat.