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The Library Needs Laughter

by on November 7, 2017

The workplace needs laughter. According to research from institutions as serious as Wharton, MIT, and London Business School, every chuckle or guffaw brings with it a host of business benefits. Laughter relieves stress and boredom, boosts engagement and well-being, and spurs not only creativity and collaboration but also analytic precision and productivity.[1]

I like to think of myself as a funny guy, but my wife has a differing opinion. She thinks that my jokes are “painful” in some way. Perhaps the fact that they are filled with both puns and sarcasm makes them difficult to bear. However, there is a saying that goes with a sharp wit and sometimes overactive sense of humor: “discretion shall preserve thee.” This statement has proven true over and over, and is especially true if you are in a leadership role. There’s a big difference between when the boss tells a joke and when it comes from a coworker. Here’s are some commonsense tips for using humor at work.

  • Making fun of the current administration or pointing fingers at the mayor can not only cost you your position, but can paint the library in an unfavorable light. You don’t want that hanging over your head when the budget is being voted on.
  • In addition remember the simple rule that making general statements about groups of people, whether that be religious, racial, related to sexual orientation, political party affiliation, or nearly any other group an individual might be a part of is wrong. You could say something derogatory about say, Star Wars fans. However, if that statement made it seem at all as if you might treat that group unfairly in your library, it can be seen as discriminatory and politically incorrect.
  • Be careful with sarcasm. It can be, well, a bit biting from time to time. Sarcasm can also be misunderstood. Even when it seems unnecessary, make it clear to employees and others when what you are saying is a joke.
  • While it may seem funny to make light of someone else’ mistake, the best policy is to avoid this kind of humor altogether at least in the workplace. Not only does it prevent you from slipping over the invisible line between funny and offensive, but it also sets the example for those around you. Peer to peer jokes of this nature can be just as offensive or damaging no matter how innocent they may seem on the surface. As a leader, you model what is acceptable and not acceptable in your workplace.
  • While a little self-deprecation can be funny in the right situation, too much of it shows you lack confidence in your own abilities. This in turn can inspire doubt in your staff and those you lead every day.

Smart Brief on Leadership asked its readers if they would rather work with a leader with a good sense of humor or one without. Nearly half said it was more than just a desirable quality: it was an essential leadership trait. So how do you foster good, clean, safe humor in your library?

  • Break the Tension: Let your employees know it is okay to laugh at work
  • Spread Opportunities: Create times for lighthearted laughter and joking around as part of your workday.
  • Be Human: You will make mistakes, that joke you thought was well timed will fail. Laugh at yourself. It humanizes you, and lets those around you know they don’t have to be perfect either.

Using humor opens people up to interact more freely with you, and makes them feel able to share more openly. As library leaders, we need to do better, be funnier, and use humor liberally especially when times are tough and things are hard. Your staff, and ultimately your patrons, will thank you for it.


  1. Leading with Humor by Alison Beard, Harvard Business Review, May 2014, https://hbr.org/2014/05/leading-with-humor.

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