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Laughing all the way to the bank?

On the funniest day of the year, Hana Evans investigates whether there is a place for humour in the world of internal communications.

How did you wake up this morning? Did your alarm go off to start your day as normal? Or were you woken by a frantic child saying the kitchen is flooded, only for you to get downstairs and realise that it isn’t. That’s what happened to my dad back in 1990-something, and he didn’t see the funny side.

April Fools’ Day – the one day of the year when we go out of our way to annoy our fellow humans, all to see who can get the biggest laugh. But the problem with humour is that not everyone finds the same things funny. You can think you’re pretty safe with a video of a cute kitten falling over and someone will cry animal cruelty. So how do you know where the line is, and with this potential controversy always just around the corner, is it worth trying to be humorous in internal comms?

Last year, law firm Weil, Gotshal & Manges made a grave error. One morning employees came into work to an email with the subject line ‘Important New Email Policy’. Upon reading, the lawyers were surprised to learn that email would “not be transmitted” between 11pm and 6am, at weekends or while staff were on holiday.

“All emails during this time will be automatically responded to with a message that the recipient is on vacation and not receiving emails, and the name, email address and telephone number of a designated substitute for the duration of the vacation. We are proud to be taking a leadership role in caring about our colleagues’ quality of life.”

How can this be an error you might ask? Weil, Gotshal & Manges are clearly passionate about ensuring their employees strike a good work-life balance. Unfortunately, the email was sent on April 1st, and its content was a joke. Understandably, the overworked lawyers didn’t see the funny side.

So why take the chance? Why bring humour into the workplace when you can so easily get it wrong? At the 2015 Central Region IoIC Conference, Stephanie Davies, CEO of Laughology, said that laughter is one of our most important tools for connecting with each other. Think about when you really hit it off with someone down the pub. Is it because they very earnestly told you about their interests, or because they made you laugh?

In 2004, Chuck Gose, founder of internal communications podcast ICology, was working at a General Motor’s plant and released an April Fools’ Day edition of the site newsletter. Stories included the canteen now selling ergonomic sandwiches and all 1,000 editions of the newsletter were gone in a day. Normally it took all week for them to go. Despite knowing it was a humorous edition, people wanted to read it, and they were keen to be in next year’s edition too. They were engaged.

Stephanie says that if you can wrap something positive like humour around a negative, such as change, then people are more likely to listen, engage and connect with it. So if you’re approaching some change management, why not give us a call and see if we can’t find a way to smile through it all together?

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