Workplace stress or occupational stress is the leading cause of employee absenteeism. On an average workday, an estimated 1 million workers do not make it to work due to stress-related-illness.
The unexpected or uncontrollable situations that daily wreak havoc on our well laid plans are a major source of stress. Even though we are often unable to control our circumstances, we can control our reaction. Acute stress causes the two hemispheres of our brain to become disconnected. This explains why we might feel flustered, fumble, drop things, and make mistakes, when we feel stressed out.
If we are able to look for the humor in that moment, smile, and find a way to laugh about it, we can diffuse a potentially explosive situation. Laughter is a pressure release valve that activates the limbic system in the brain, connecting the right and left sides. It helps us do more whole brain work, and improves our mental clarity. By relieving our stress, we are able to regain our perspective, summon our creativity and problem solve at a higher capacity.
Karla is an accountant and works for a medical office. Even though it was a stretch, Karla worked hard all week to finish the payroll, so she may leave work early to attend her daughter’s volleyball tournament. Her boss asks her to fill in for the receptionist, who just called in sick.
Karla has a solid relationship with her boss, and she is fortunate to work in a fun environment. Karla feels comfortable to use humor in her response to her boss’ request, “Sure, I adore this office. I don’t mind missing my daughter’s volleyball tournament this afternoon, even though it will break her heart, and I have worked hard to get my work done so I may leave early today. That is, unless you insist that I still leave early.”
One theory on how humor is created is called the Incongruity Theory. This theory suggests that we laugh when two incongruent things come together unexpectedly. Without complaining, Karla was able to draw her boss’ attention to the commitment she made to be present at her daughter’s game. Because Karla’s playful sarcasm caused her boss to chuckle, he was more than willing to make a plan that would accommodate her leaving early.
How can you use humorous exaggeration to solve a stressful issue in your workplace? Here is an example. You are not able to finish a project, because it hinges on receiving information from another co-worker, who has assured you twice, he will send it immediately. You feel awkward asking him a third time. So you pick up the phone, and call him, “I seem to be having some problems receiving my e-mail lately. I can’t seem to locate the information you sent to me last week.”
Don’t be surprised if this is the response you hear, “The problem is not with your e-mail. I still haven’t sent that information.” When you show others that you aren’t perfect, it allows them to admit that they are human, too. Bottom-line, you want the information and the quickest way to get it is to ask without blaming or offending.
The next time you are stressed out because of unexpected or uncontrollable circumstances remember this; “On the keyboard of life, humor is your escape key.”