The practice of humor in the workplace has been around a long time. Industrial sociologists have observed that on-the-job joking and bantering as a means of building unity, relieving tension and reducing the tedium of boring manual labor has been a ritualized part of the workforce since the industrial revolution. And if we go back even further, the beloved Court Jester (not to be confused with the Court Gesture, which is often obscene and not terribly appropriate) provides an excellent model for modern day corporate humor.
Court jesters arrived on the scene around 1000 AD. In fact, William the Conqueror (no, not Bill Gates) may have had one of the first jesters, a jocular fellow named Goles, who evidently helped William lighten up after a hard day of conquering. Court Jesters were respected members of the royal inner circle, in fact many leaders used their jester as an inner confidante and took advice from them. Court Jesters, by using humour, were able to get away with telling “delicate truths” to a leader that other members of the court could not get away with. Jesters were especially relied on during times of war as a means of relieving stress. King Henry III used his jester to relieve sadness, while Queen Elizabeth I reported that her jester cured her melancholy better than any doctor could. Jesters finally petered out during the 1600’s after the government tried to license them (leave it to the bureaucrats to break up a good laughfest).
So why not take a lesson from the past and hire or create your own corporate jester? Someone respected for their wit, wisdom, storytelling abilities and snappy fashion sense. They could become a cheerleader for the company and a morale booster when times are tough. Corporate jesters could dole out surprise rewards, interrupt shareholder meetings with a great joke or juggle during wearisome sales presentations.
At the very least, we should remember revive the spirit of the court jester in our companies (minus the part where they get beheaded for not being funny).
Michael Kerr is a very funny motivational speaker and international business speaker who speaks on inspiring workplace cultures and the role humor plays in both driving and reflecting success in business. www.MikeKerr.com
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