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"A Guy Walks Into An Office ..."

Tuesday, May 1, 2012
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A person's sense of humor may be like their own fingerprint: kind of loopy and definitely unique.

But what role -- if any -- does a worker's funny bone play in helping -- or hindering -- their immersion into a corporate culture?

The results are definitely mixed, according to a recent survey of 1,400 chief financial officers at organizations with more than 20 employees by the temporary staffing firm Accountemps.

It finds that, while 22 percent say an employee's sense of humor is "very important" for them in fitting into their company's culture, another 20 percent say it's "not important at all."

Meanwhile, the majority of respondents -- 57 percent -- say that a sense of humor is "somewhat important," with the remaining 1 percent responding, "I don't know."

"Sometimes, a little levity goes a long way toward building rapport among colleagues and diffusing workplace tension," says Max Messmer, chairman of the Menlo Park, Calif.-based firm.

"Keep in mind," says Ryan Sutton, senior regional vice president at Robert Half International, which owns Accountemps, "that having a good sense of humor in the office doesn't mean you have to be the funniest person in the room. Rather, it means you are approachable, easy to get along with and able to manage pressure situations well."

In interviews with candidates, he says, hiring managers can ask for examples of times when they helped a team reach a common goal, diffused a stressful situation or succeeded under trying circumstances.

While the interview is no place for a comedy routine, Messner says, "it is the right time to show hiring managers you are approachable and will be easy to work with."

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Sutton also recommends hiring managers ask references about a job candidate's sense of humor, teamwork abilities and how much colleagues enjoyed working with him or her, because "a sense of humor, particularly as it helps maintain levity and keep issues in perspective, is critical."

David Gebler, a principal at the Sharon, Mass.-based consultancy The Skout Group, says humor in the workplace "is a sure sign of a sophisticated corporate culture" and is not "frivolous."

"By placing humor high on their list, they are attracting employees who are confident and comfortable working with each other," says Gebler, who authored The 3 Power Values: How Commitment, Integrity and Transparency Clear the Roadblocks to Performance.

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