Forbes - Leadership

How Comics Are Helping Employees Laugh, Heal And Understand Disability

As a disability reporter who is dyslexic, dysgraphic, ADHD and is prone to anxiety, humor has saved my life. If I couldn’t laugh at myself during my worst days, I’m not sure I’d be here writing this. At work, I try to laugh often.

I am not alone in my love of using humor to diffuse tough conversations or explain how my brain works differently. When I write, it’s a way of acknowledging the elephants in the office—disability, bias and stigma. It’s vitally important to young adults entering the workforce. Research shows one in five people has a learning or attention disorder and one in four people will experience mental illness.

On this, Mental Health Month, I’m drawing attention to humor as tool for connecting people and how laughter really can be the best medicine in the workplace. Laughter really is the best medicine—and it does have a place in the workplace. How could it not after a year like 2020? Find out how to do funny right:

Humorous, Candid Storytelling That Heals 

In case you didn’t get the memo, 2020 was funny. Being disabled or struggling with your mental health can also be funny in 2021. How is that possible? Whether you prefer gallows humor or social justice with a dose of all-too-real humor, it’s okay. Go ahead and crack a joke. Even people who are depressed can find themselves laughing.  Jenny Lawson, does the seemingly impossible. She talks openly about suicidal ideation and self-harm on the Ted San Antonio stage and people in the audience are laughing (not at her, with her). Lawson may be too honest for every office. She’s just one of many ways to use humor at work to cover difficult topics or simply take a break. On the subject of bias, disability and Blackness, there’s the work of W. Kamau Bell. He’s not a barrel of laughs kind of comic. Still, his interview on the work of advocating for disabled people proved to me that you can bring a tough topic to life with a grin on your face. 

Laughing Off Depression In Healthcare And Education

To heal, colleagues and leaders need to start conversations. Communication is the lifeblood of companies. You can even bring humor into some of the most delicate workplaces, such as senior living homes and schools. A 2020 study showed overwhelmingly that humor improved quality of life and alleviated mild depression in 40% of the group. “It is one of the low-cost, safe, and non-invasive interventions that decrease the depression of the elderly by increasing endorphin and improving mood,” the study authors wrote. But a 2018 study done in classrooms showed using humor had mixed results on the work of students and teachers. It alleviated students’ stress and anxiety and produced a positive feeling in the classroom. It did not help students to learn. A study of post-humor test taking had less than impressive results. 


Making People Laugh As A Service

Corporate culture and comedy basement humor aren’t a natural fit. It can be risky hiring a comic to entertain your team. When I saw thatLaugh.Events described Facebook as all business in the front, party in the back, even I was nervous to click the links at work. 

I did click and listen and heard Kevin Hubschmann, a comic in New York City who, in a pandemic-induced act of bravery, launched Laugh.Events. He specializes in personalized shows that guarantee audience participation even after the most disastrous weeks. “When people engage, they bond, too. They don’t just sit there on mute,” said Hubschmann. “Doing this helps them to feel better.” His virtual events last about an hour and the audience is encouraged to take part. Each comic gets a prep sheet with information about the office that will be in the audience, which allows them to create a curated experience. He manages to be inclusive and keeps the routines clean. The genius of his corporate model is that he asks for pre-event surveys to help him get a feel for the team he’ll be performing for virtually. His comics have material that brings belly laugh to sales and marketing as easily as it does to engineers and HR. Each event has a positive vibe.

Like Hubschmann, I believe humor deserves a bigger place at work. In 2021, make room, if you can, for giggles, chuckles, belly laughs, puns and personalized bingo. The results are no joke.

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