That’s not rhetorical. It’s an open question. And your answer may well be different from mine.
But if you think it is okay to write humor into your materials at work, I strongly advise doing so. I’ll explain why soon.
I have been hired many times by private-sector firms to write humorous material that these businesses used in unexpected and interesting ways. A few examples:
- A funny corporate PowerPoint presentation (I know!) to introduce a small technology startup.
- A very light and playful on-hold telephone message from a company’s CEO.
- A corporate annual report that hit all of the key Wall Street and SEC notes (fiscal year revenue, expenses, tax implications of… blah blah blah), but designed also to be lively and fun.
- And the most unexpected example: A company hired me to write the funniest possible… employee handbook. (I know!)
I couldn’t secure permission for excerpts of the other material, but here are a few snippets of the handbook from that firm, which I’ll call ABC Company…
On Payment of Wages:
ABC Company’s pay period begins on Sunday at 12:00 a.m. (at which time we expect you at your desk. Just kidding.), and ends Saturday at 11:59 p.m.
Paycheck errors: Did we screw up? Forget a few overtime hours? We apologize. Contact the office manager.
Lost Paychecks: Did you screw up? Lose your check? Apology accepted. Contact the office manager.
What, you’re still here?
On Workday Schedules:
By now, you’ve probably gotten the impression that we’re a pretty laid-back organization. And in most respects we are. But this is no laughing matter. As hard as it is for us to be this strict, we must insist that you adhere to our work schedule, and that you’re here between, oh, sometime around 8:30 a.m. and, well, let’s say roughly 5:30 p.m. No exceptions!
On Personal Calls at Work:
“Hold on a minute, Mom. Somebody just put a file on my desk. It’s marked ‘Urgent.’ Anyway, how’s Dad?”
A few personal calls are okay when they’re necessary and when they do not interfere with your work.
On Office Safety:
1. Don’t attempt a task for which you are not trained. (“Let’s see, maybe I can clear this paper jam if I just tilt the copier on its side.”)
2. Keep your work area, including floors, neat and orderly. (“Sorry. Forgot to wipe that lemonade spill off the floor. Let me help you up.”)
3. Practice safe carrying. (“Hey, watch me lift this 50-pound box on my head. Ouch. Help me up.”)
4. Do not use defective or unguarded equipment. (“I’ll bet you 50 bucks I can make this old printer work. All you have to do is plug it in. Ouch! Help me up.”)
5. Report all accidents or near accidents to your supervisor. (“Limp? What limp? Say, on a totally unrelated matter, do you have a couch or a stretcher I could lie down on?”)
So what’s the common thread here? I think each of these businesses wanted to be seen as human, made of real people trying to accomplish things they care about. Sometimes they wanted to underscore the business’s human side for investors, sometimes for customers or the public, other times for their own staff.
In other words, they wanted to make a real connection with people.
And in every case, as far as I could determine, it worked. Callers loved that CEO’s monologue. That irreverent handbook helped the company attract great employees. And why wouldn’t it? If you read an employee handbook that tried to make you laugh, wouldn’t it seem like an interesting place to work?
My point? I believe – and I admit this is completely subjective – that your documents at work can be made more readable, more relaxed, more valued, with a little appropriate and understated humor. Yes, even your staff memo. Even your PowerPoint presentation. Even your meeting agenda. In fact, especially serious documents like those.
Please note, also, that humor wasn’t all there was to that handbook. The document ran dozens of pages and was in fact a real employee handbook – covering HIPAA, performance reviews, sexual harassment, blah blah blah. Same with all of these other documents. The funny works only if it is surrounded by the serious. And at the same time, it strengthens the serious.
My advice? Try it. Add one bit of humor – just one – to your next report/email /agenda/whatever. See what happens.
Humor brings people closer. It builds teams. And it makes all of the work you do more memorable.