The Great Recession was no laughing matter. It left a lot of companies and organizations hurting. However, a myopic focus only on the bottom line can become a rather mind-numbing affair. There is more to an organization than its bottom line. I’d like to suggest that in this post-recession environment it’s very important to make sure we give plenty of attention to the laugh line of our organizations. Keeping a sense of humor alive and thriving in the workplace is essential for keeping employees engaged and happier than they might otherwise be. This also necessarily depends on knowing how to exercise your sense of humor appropriately.

Humor in eLearning: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

I’ll start off with some basic Dos and Don’ts on the effective use of humor in the workplace:

  • Do use it to soften the blow of bad news.
  • Don’t allow it to become so distracting that people can’t get their work done.
  • Do use it to generate enthusiasm.
  • Don’t use humor at the expense of others.
  • Do use it to break the tension of super-charged situations.
  • Don’t feel like every bit of humor has to result in belly laughs – a smile will suffice.
  • Do keep it positive – negative humor almost always ostracizes someone.
  • Don’t use it to sugar coat less-than-stellar news.
  • Do use it to poke fun at yourself, just don’t go too far with it.

I think those are all pretty self-explanatory, but that last one needs a little more explanation. Self-deprecating humor is good because it makes you seem more human. After all, most of us are all too aware of our flaws, and it’s easier to relate to someone who can poke a little fun at their own flaws. But there’s a balance you need to achieve with it, because if you go too far, then people will begin to wonder about your self-esteem. Just the right amount projects confidence in who you are, flaws and all.

You’ve no doubt heard the old saying that “laughter is the best medicine.” This is actually backed up by science, which has found that laughter does the following in the human body (source):

  1. Keeps blood flow normal.
  2. Gives a mini abdominal workout (and a face muscle workout as well).
  3. Boosts immune functions.
  4. Release natural painkillers and mood elevators (endorphins) in the body.
  5. Keeps stress in check.
  6. Relaxes the body.
  7. Lowers blood sugar levels.

Don’t those all sound like things you’d like more of in the workplace? Now comes the really tricky part – can humor be used effectively in eLearning? I think it can, in spite of the fact that conventional eLearning wisdom says to avoid it. Here are some ways to do it:

  • Humorous examples. You always need real-world examples that illustrate whatever concept you’re trying to get across in your eLearning content, so make sure that some of them are downright hilarious. It’ll keep people’s energy nice and high as they proceed through the content.
  • Keep it balanced. While humor can go a long way towards keeping your learners engaged and energized, make sure the humor doesn’t get in the way of the instructional content. Use just enough to enhance it rather than detract from it.
  • Know your audience. There’s nothing worse than a complete misfire of humor because you didn’t adequately account for who is on the receiving end of it. Make sure whatever humor you use fits with characteristics of your audience.
  • The unexpected. Remember that much of what we find funny has to do with something unexpected or incongruous happening – this is the easiest kind of humor to put into eLearning, and it works well for nearly everyone as long as it’s appropriate.

We all have important, urgent work to do in our businesses and organizations, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have a little fun along the way. In fact, I believe it’s the only way that we’ll truly succeed in the long run, whether it’s eLearning courses or team meetings.