Archives—June 2015

Laugh in the Face of Adversity: Maintaining a Sense of Humor in the Workplace

Humans are social creatures and humor is one of the greatest interactions we have that connects us to one another. We laugh in countless situations in countless settings, from family dinners to friendly get togethers. Even when first meeting someone, a well placed and proper joke does wonders in breaking the ice and paving the way to more casual interaction. Humor is fun, easy, usually free, and makes us feel comfortable being around each other in everyday social settings—something that is often overlooked in the workplace.

The workplace: “no pain, no gain;” “work isn’t supposed to be fun;” “work before play;” “no rest for the weary.” These are phrases often used when discussing our work and career. We seem to be under the impression that we should not be having fun at our jobs, which is where we spend much of our time. Plus, work can be frustrating: your boss piles you with files, forms, and impossible due dates; you ran into a co-worker and dropped your lunch; you’re tired and your patience is frayed. It’s no wonder we feel so stressed out and frazzled by the end of the week—nay, day—we typically have more things to complain about than rave about when we are asked about our days at work. This is a serious health problem that can be alleviated by a simple change in attitude to allow ourselves to make our jobs more enjoyable. In other words: Be funny; it may improve your health!

Studies have shown that laughter really is medicinal. In fact, laughing is similar to exercising in that it works your core muscles and stimulates the cardiovascular and respiratory systems. When you have a good, hearty chuckle, your body increases endorphin levels and reduces stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. Subsequently, your body’s stress responses diminish: blood pressure lowers, muscles relax, and mood improves. Not only will you feel refreshed after a good giggle fit with your colleagues, but that shared chuckle over the ridiculous demands of your job and home lives also helps your immune system stay active.


What can you do to build a sense of humor in the workplace?

  1. Start with a smile (even if it’s a fake one)—“Fake it ‘til you make it,” as the old adage goes, and it goes for a reason. A conscious smile can go a long way to make it easier for a real smile to creep onto that face of yours.
  2. Take a step back and look for what’s ridiculous—It can be easy to feel overwhelmed when you’re in the middle of a project. Try to look at your situation from an observer’s perspective, and you may find it easier to recognize some of the absurdity of what you’re doing. It might even help to think about your life as a sitcom. In other words, sometimes the important things we do can give us a good chuckle.
  3. Take short breaks—Make time to read your favorite webcomics or watch short, funny videos. Use these breaks as rewards for getting things done and you may see improvement in how you feel by the end of the day.
  4. Make sure your friends and co-workers are on board—You may need to be the one who initiates the humor in your workplace, so make it a point to start days off by sharing a video you found that cracked you up or by telling your colleagues about something hilariously stupid that happened to you the other day.


Now, get out there and use that humor of yours to laugh at all these lemons life inexplicably puts in your pockets.


The WorkLife Challenges of Higher Ed Community Members

One of my co-workers and I recently had the wonderful opportunity to attend the 2015 Conference for College and University Work-Life-Family Association in Portland, Oregon from May 6-8. First of all: what a beautiful city! This was my first visit to the Pacific Northwest, and flying in above the clouds and over the greenery and mountaintops certainly didn’t disappoint.

More importantly, we were able to meet with many other dedicated professionals who are seeking to support their colleagues—both staff and faculty—in creating ways to better manage our work-life integration. I learned that, in many ways, Michigan Tech isn’t all that unique in the challenges we face with regard to work-life quality. While Michigan Tech is in a rather rural location and can feel pretty isolated, we do have a strong and supportive community to reach out to. Like those at other institutions, many of us at Michigan struggle to find quality, affordable child care, including the challenge of finding such care on short notice when there are snow days or our kids are sick. Many of us also face challenges of caring for aging relatives, especially at a distance. So many in the higher education community move away from family in pursuit of their careers, but those family obligations and ties remain, all with the added challenge of fulfilling our familial responsibilities from far away.

Caregiver challenges notwithstanding, however, one of the greatest gaps in the lives of those of us working in higher education is the need to find time to take care of ourselves. This hit home to me while on the flight returning from Portland. During the standard safety talk given by the flight attendant, we were told to make sure to get our own oxygen masks on first before helping anyone else around us, including children. Why? Because if we don’t take care of ourselves first, we won’t be in any shape to help those around us.

I can’t count the number of times that I’ve listened to (and tuned out) this talk on the many flights I’ve been on, but perhaps it was because I was coming home from a conference where self-care was emphasized that it finally, truly hit home. As a mother of three boys of a wide age range (ages 21 down to one year old), it’s easy for me to skip my own care when I get home from work. The youngest two depend on me to feed them and ensure their health, the oldest depends on me as he moves into adulthood and navigates college experiences. When would I have time to take care of myself?

I’ll be honest and say that I haven’t quite figured that one out yet, but I’m thrilled that Michigan Tech has renewed its commitment to work-life programming to support its employees and students. If you read through our newly-updated Strategic Plan, we even state that one of the University’s strategic goals is to “enhance work-life blending for all members of our community” (GOAL 1.2). I look forward to finding ways to help make this happen.